We, humans, have had challenges in identifying the Truth throughout, but never before have the challenges been so tall and so complex than the coming days. Today, the intellectual capacity necessary to filter the falsity and curb the ‘fake news’ is rather very high. Earlier, we could just point at a print for proof of facts, but today, the falsity is so profusely mixed in an uncommon unusual proportion that our education doesn’t help us to tackle this future. Thanks to the magnification tool of Internet’s social media and it’s organizational ease, now we can communicate rumors at a speed so much faster than the boring Truth that the propensity of the public mind is wildly gullible.
Before the advent of the Internet, the tools that we usually used to differentiate between the Facts and the False were built on Trust: trust from our senses to see or hear, trust in the news-teller’s credibility, trust from that fact-dominated print where reporters or authors write based on layers of interception of facts putting their reputation on the line – opening themselves to be questioned publicly, and so on. In that contained world, we could easily sense Truth with clarity and differentiate between the absurd conspiracy theory and a sensible hypothesis of an expert based on evidences. Every writer could be held accountable to his words unlike the anonymous accelerators of today.
We got schooled and educated by a system that taught us to “refer the printed” for facts; not how to Google and discover the Truth underneath the layers and layers of Search Engine Optimized website link results. So, we learned how to refer to our dictionaries, books, expert opinion columns, etc. in all those familiar fonts that was precisely a medium to learn, digest and form opinions.
But, with that yesteryear’s filtering process came the congestion of voices and also an organized power rendered to the media that the masses were compelled to contain their voices and follow the common ‘feed’ of the mainstream media that regulatory boards could check, contain and hold authors by their collars if there is any misrepresentation of facts. Today, the legal arms and regulatory bodies are caught unprepared to handle this sudden explosion of Falsity and it’s unexpected consequences orchestrated by anonymous “activists” who apparently are compassionate for the public to cause panic in their “precautionary” voices.
These days, we are also orphaned by the advent of this new fascination of the mobile phone’s Internet that can spread any media – impersonating and disguising as anybody in any print, picture, voice or video. With more and more inventions, it is possible to indoctrinate almost anything into the public mind and deviously confuse even the intelligent and the educated. Just have a look at tools like Deep Fake Videos or Adobe VoCo (voice editing tool) or a simple Adobe Photo-shop. We easily may begin to realize that we can not Trust our senses anymore without corroborations. We will grow on to need more experts to investigate every media presented as evidence in any “news” of tomorrow at this rate. How, then, can we investigate to get closer to the Truth if every sense known to us can be manipulated and doctored for self-serving rationalizations?
The only way to be widely heard before was by finding an access to write in a newspaper, or get featured on a news channel which had the funneling power to draw the populist attention. But today, a phone, a camera and an invigorating story is sufficient to act as a source to provoke any mob or community towards any direction the Virulent wants to drive. Emotional manipulation needs only a threatening passionate personal relatable story and not the accuracy of the claims or the factuality of the frames.
The earlier containment of voices and views might sound anti-democratic and skewed with the power vested with those few Influencer’s pen or microphone, but in all that design, there was clear accountability; fingers could be pointed easily at the source of inaccuracy or intended falsehood; policies could be concocted to prevent violation of Truth and misrepresentation of facts within the vicissitudes of Law and Policies.
In India, the Sedition Law that curbs authors today was designed back by the British in the colonial days to curb the Independence movement. Unfortunately, Governments today enjoy this design to curb any criticism against them. One can’t voice strongly against a face of the Government like in the US because of these Sedition Laws. So, a John Oliver or a Trevor Noah or a Stephen Colbert can easily be imprisoned in India for their graphic language even if it is an intended satire. Explains why India never saw the likes of John Stewart.
The traditional information channels and it’s funnels have now started becoming redundant at the advent of newer tools like Social Media. In some cases, they seem to have fallen into the pits of Social Media trends that they now ride the hype on a topic for survival than stand tall protecting the Truth. The traditional prints and TV have now started adapting their processes and presentations to match the needs of the coming attention-deficit generation. Responsible journalism seems endangered by politics, social media and ad-driven business-models. Journalism used to be a spirit of expression and the voice of investigating the Truth than trending on Twitter.
It is no longer about who writes the most authentic piece of work or the goodness of quality, but rather it’s about who beats everyone else to deliver a news to go viral. It is all about who can grab the most attention. It’s no longer about what is best for the nutrition or health of the reader’s mind, but it’s rather about the best tool to grab a reader’s mind by the emotional vulgarity to get them to invest their attention long enough to be monetized grandly. This same process is now so easily being ployed by the narcissists and attention-seekers.
Public Attention Fund
Attention has always been the most valuable currency. At the advent of the concept of democracy and capitalism, the necessity to manipulate a voter’s mind, a buyer’s decision, a consumer’s choice has been brought to the front of our society by design. But the time and cost necessary to initiate such a strategic manipulation was rather high before, that we could easily look past those smokescreens and clouds before it could strongly seed in us. However, today, that barrier has been brought down far cheaper: it’s all at the click of a button, at a bare minimal cost of a mobile camera.
Suddenly today, we have pretentious activists across communities; some want-to-be-famous cameo cathartic trying to show their altruistic side in a questionably narcissistic way. We have viral videos run by these “fake activists” talking about “plastic rice“, “venomous vaccinations“, “child abduction alerts“, etc. All these fake news spread faster than wild fire ever could cross states, countries or even continents.
The ‘plastic rice’ fake news originated in China in 2010 and continued to spread across India, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal and many other nations even in 2016: we are looking at the survival of a ‘fake news’ for more than 5 solid years across a minimum 10 countries in 2 continents. While Truth and it’s experts were working very hard to debunk this falsity, slow down the spread rate, the ‘fake news’ was already spreading across peoples. The result was an unnecessary panic across families, villages and cities and in some cases opening the population to the vulnerability of an epidemic attack like a Yellow fever in Brazil because ‘vaccination was claimed fatal’ by the fake news.
The ‘child abduction’ fake activism video went viral across states in India from the states of Jharkhand to Tamilnadu and killed as minimum as 7 Lives and left many injured from provoked mob attacks. In this case, because the viral “audio message” was recorded by the Virulent, an anonymous ‘faketivist’ (fake activist). He was claiming and voicing a cautionary attention-grabbing message that 20 children had already been abducted by strangers. This led the vulnerably semi-literate villagers to being overly suspicious at every stranger. They, as mobs, began attacking many in the process. Those victims possibly tried being nice to children and ended up getting beaten to be injured or even dead.
The cost of ‘fake news’ has begun affecting lives on a grand scale today: economies and even peace in nations are under threat with the advent of these super-fast mind manipulating tools. Attention is no longer just a desperate tool of the politicians and the capitalists, but also these ‘fake activists’ craving attention. By design, our attention peaks at fear over anything that threatens our survival; this weakness in our design is constantly abused and taken advantage of by these manipulators – intentionally or not. That “Virulent” capitalist or politician or attention-craver use this weakness to provoke us to spread that “news” without filters of verification across legitimate sources.
Accelerated Falsity and Resting Truth
Recently, in an MIT study, researchers analyzed the diffusion of Fake news on Twitter spread over 11 years of data from 126,000 stories. From the study, they found that Fake news spread much faster and traveled much deeper within and between communities than regular news. They also found that the ‘Fake News’ was so novel and fresh that people began finding such information more interesting to share than the news of normalcy.
India’s tag-line “Truth alone Triumphs” could be our belief at heart. However, it is seemingly becoming difficult for that Truth to win because of our lack of skills; Fake news seem to be winning the race at this point for lack of awareness, education and experience. As we begin loosing life, money, economy, democratic peace, reputation, midst many other pillars holding the modern society together, we have to begin the endeavor of quashing these Falsities threatening our society’s foundation of Trust.
Humanity and it’s society has been consistently built on mutual Trust and collective cooperation; shutting down the Internet or social media and amputating the society’s arms of connectivity is definitely not the solution to this problem. Many governments in Africa, India, Srilanka and many others have tried this technique; but duck-taping mouths can only bottle-up and burst into a commotion led by pseudo-rebels another day than solving this complex problem.
Historically, we have been through such chaos before and learned to differentiate the Truth from the noise. Every time, we drafted new mechanisms of Trust, newer Legal policies and newer economic incentive structures or penalties by design. It is that time of our globally digital civilization that we have to begin drafting newer mechanisms to check this mess and contain these casualties. This would need help from various makers of our society ranging from you, me, that WhatsApp admin, Facebook arguers, Reddit moderator to government departments, social media companies, educators, etc.
The question of |Truth| and |False| has always difficult and it is necessary to establish the Truth and quash the False to maintain structure, stability and civility in all our lives and for the many more new lives to come to this world. It’s time to act than contemplate over Post-truth, or watch the pseudo-activists demolish every piece of Trust left in our systems.
It is time to put our thinking caps on and begin designing newer models for the society to filter and function. Hopefully before the cost gets too high.