Last week, Facebook added a ‘disputed news’ metadata tag, the first in a series of expected social media tools to filter out 'fake news' . The appearance of more such tools will be a last-ditch effort to save factual truth on the Internet. But will they work? Although fake news filtering is a great idea, I feel rather obligated to point out, no, it won't work, because they do not address the real problem. First I need to say, I am a retired Oxford scholar of philosophy and prior digital architect for Intel, Apple, AT&T and Comcast products. I have been following this trend for the last ten years, first in 2nd-Amendment social media groups. When I first predicted that Tea Party ethics would take over the government, academics scoffed at me. Last year they were no longer scoffing. So I will explain what I have observed.
For a long while, the Internet was a fantastic innovation, as people with particular obscure interests could find each other, in ways previously impossible. But other corollary assemblages formed. People with *any* particular view could find others to validate it, regardless of the view's actual sensibility. People easily found reinforcement for hostile, violent, socially unacceptable views, which would rapidly have been terminated in real-world scenarios, but which built in impetus, safe in anonymity, until the group reached critical mass. Then they organized to gather at some rally, when previously they would not have been able to find each other. Political parties figured this out and now frequently refer to it as 'new grass roots organization on the Internet.' These very powerful political groups are loosely associated, and the formal components can claim detachment from the more aggressive elements, but in tandem they form an increasingly unstoppable force.
One of their most powerful tools is the creation of propaganda masquerading as news. This is no new idea, but with the new communications systems, aggressors can create massive amounts of it and disseminate it like never before, frequently using the emotive, repetitive rhetoric defined by Hitler in 'Mein Kampf' to make ludicrous falsities appear credible. This is what Hitler wrote. I am required to add, from much experience, that I am not calling these people Nazis. I am simply saying they are using the rhetorical technique which Hitler defined, and which history has shown to be disastrously successful:
"Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating mass of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
In response, the only real suggestion so far has been to create new tools to filter out fake news. But they won't work either. The power groups will simply hijack any tools to filter out fake news and bend them to their agenda. If necessary, they will create their own fake authenticity outlets and flood the Internet with alternative fake news filters; create new websites with some authentic stories, then mix in stories biased to their own agenda; and create an avalanche of fake news about how successful, working fake news filters are no good, Also, I should add, these new tools to filter out fake news are not new ideas. I for one started asking for them 5 years ago. They are now too late. The agenda of those wishing to control public opinion in this way has since continued to grow in power, the power groups are now established, they have no ethics, and they have no hesitation in inciting corruption for their own power, which they then deny on their own fake news systems.
Example: President Trump's First Stated Fact as President
In his first public speech as President, in front of the stars of the fallen in CIA's headquarters, the first fact that President Trump stated was that his inauguration crowd was the largest ever. Then he accused the media of creating fake news about low turnout. After several repetitions over following weeks, he ordered the National Park Service to release photos. So it did, shown above. But they were taken at different times of day, so were not directly representative, prompting criticism from the administration again that the press was deliberately falsifying facts, even though the press was simply publishing the photos that the administration had itself ordered. Notwithstanding, experts found Trump's crowd to be two thirds smaller than Obama's first inauguration. The right claims the crowd would have been larger if organized protests had not stopped Trump supporters from attending the inauguration, which even if true, makes no difference to the President's actual statement. Trump continues to state the media makes fake news, but never retracted his statement about his inauguration crowd being the largest ever, placing his personal assessment above those of his own experts. As the President himself is demonstrably creating false facts, either way, what exactly are fake news filters meant to remove?"
In concert, the power groups remain immune to any fact or rationality contrary to their position, because they have gathered many believing the same falsity. They then mutually reject any authority or academic qualification over their own opinion, and they are not even open to discussing it. They simply ban or ridicule anything different to their agenda, and support each other in doing so.
The aggregate of these micro communities creates hostile dichotomies through the midst of society, across which each side does nothing but attack and blame the other side, no matter how inconsistent or directly wrong each side's view is on any one particular point, because, the discrepancies in rationality don't even matter. There is no real interest any more in understanding what MIGHT be true, and what that would mean; instead there is only a continually mounting pressure to say that everyone outside one's own camp is wrong, accelerating into some future mutual assured destruction.
I would be open to discussing solutions, but just as 10 years ago, there are still insufficient people taking this problem seriously enough, even though it is now graced with the popular moniker as a new 'post-truth ' era. In the general and massively increased noise of scoffing and denial, it is no longer so easy to find people with the same concerns as it used to be, if the concerns are not the ones which everyone else considers most important. So it now appears to me, the schisms and lack of concern for reason are permanent, at least for my own life. It seems to me there is no existent force to change it, unless people take this problem seriously enough and take real steps to correct it throughout society, starting with our education system.
Thus, the fact of the matter is not so much that it is impossible to have rational dialog at all. Rather any rational dialog which truly attempts to reach an unbiased perspective of truth will not make any difference. The vast majority does not care. And now, those in power not only do not care, but instead ruthlessly exploit falsities throughout the political system.