Fake News

The NYTimes has decided to run with the issues of “fake news” — the generation of clickbait articles grounded in the principles of urban legends, turbocharged by the combination of heightened political fervor and digital interconnectedness.  Both stories are sobering and troubling: How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study, and  This Pizzeria Is Not a Child-Trafficking Site.

The emphasis of these articles, as well as much of the online discussion that I have seen, is on the “fake” part; but it seems to me that what we really are struggling with is the “news” part — as in, what *is* “news” anymore?

Is this not the (re-) discovery of the idea that news is more than the distribution platform, but something grounded in the assumption of editorial (and institutional) vetting?  And are we not in the midst of a differential understanding of this distinction — again?  (As in the old joke, “if it’s in a book, it must be true?”)

More importantly, we’re gertting some important examples of what it means when we talk of the role of technologists in the framing and exploitation of their creations — particularly when the interests of those deploying them are best promoted by downplaying (or even disguising) the broader consequences of their use.  (I can’t be the only one flashing back to “Casablanca” when Mark Zuckerberg is `shocked, shocked’ that there’s fake news going on here, am I?)

Certainly it’s led me to an even more scrupulous consideration of what I use something like Facebook for — and “news” is not something I ever want to be relying on Facebook or its ilk to supply.