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“Fake news” is a recent term some people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame have coined. There is now a great effort underway to study and stop “fake news.” Some of it is very interesting, like foreign teenagers dwelling in their parent’s basement basically hacking into the American psyche, engaging in a bit of mischievous social engineering…..or deliberate and far more diabolical if you are actually a paid provocateur trying to influence something like an election.

By the way, I’m always looking for good work……

I’ve been studying social engineering for a long time, the influence of advertising, the power of rhetoric, how those stories play off our emotions and exploit what I call our biological bliss hits. The internet is an absolute treasure trove if you like to study social engineering and human behavior. It’s also a treasure trove of false information, propaganda, and outright fiction. I jest a bit here, but dating sites are a great example of this.

Angela Merkel the German chancellor said something about the dangers of the internet and fake news, as did Mark Zuckerberg, and while neither one of them actually had the good graces to ask for my opinion, I’m going to offer it to them anyway.

So my first question is like, “where the heck have you two been for the past 20 years?” I was sucking down the news about mutant giant chickens back in the days of dial-up and huge computers. The first time I turned on a computer I thought, oh man, we’ve entered a whole new frontier here. Ha, and I thought television had the power to brainwash us! The internet is interactive entertainment and the potential to manipulate public opinion there is just delicious. Honestly I didn’t know whether to be horrified or full of deep admiration.

My second question is like, “have either of you ever watched the mainstream news?”  Call me crazy, but those who call themselves journalists have a special responsibility to have some journalistic integrity, to be worthy of the public’s trust. The reason why fake news flourishes so well on the internet is because it has become the alternative media. Why? because no one trusts the mainstream media anymore.

It’s a bit odd to me to listen to Zuckerberg and Merkel complain about something like the guy on the street recently who’s somewhat hysterical tweet about busing in protesters went viral and to than accuse him of propagating fake news. I mean yes, he’s a lunkhead, but still. If someone hires a plumber they have the right to expect him to act like a plumber, but you can’t just pick some guy off the street and then complain that he lacks the skills and integrity of a professional journalist.

There is also this little thing called personal responsibility. We are all required to think critically now, to question the source, to investigate. “It must be true, I saw it on the internet,” is a lame excuse indeed. In small towns we call this gossip, as in just because someone said it, doesn’t make it true. You shouldn’t say things that aren’t true, but I’m always amazed by the 15 or so people who think they’re off the hook for passively ingesting it all and passing it along. Or in the case of the internet,the 250,000 people who passed it along.

Lastly, I’m reminded that when the printing press was first invented it was actually banned in many places. It was illegal to have one because the powers that be could no longer control the entire conversation. If people can share information with one another we become unstoppable, uncontrollable, and encouraged to think for ourselves.

Not that either Merkel or Zuckerberg will listen to me, but the cure for these things is not censorship, bans, and restrictions, it is insisting that everyone be empowered to take responsibility for the information they consume and pass along, and to learn to think critically about what they are ingesting.

Mark Zuckerberg’s sudden virtue signalling and concern is downright comical in light of the revelations from a few years back, “Facebook apologizes for psychological experiments on users.”  I believe the words used there were all about introducing an “emotional contagion,”and manipulating people’s news feeds.

nancy drew

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