‘Fake News’ Isn’t Just Facebook’s Problem

by Kolby SolinskyWhite Cover Magazine


Blame Facebook if you want, if you’re afraid to take responsibility.

Blame the Internet if you want, because it’s easier than blaming humans. Because you won’t hear complaints or comebacks from websites or words or ideologies or companies. Because nobody likes to admit that the cracks of journalism aren’t just as natural in that industry as they are in any others, that they’re part of what makes journalism human, but that they’ve also been around for as long as the press has been printed. Watched. Listened to. Copied and pasted.

The Internet has been terrific for journalism. It’s been terrific for all of us, readers and observers and commentators, whether we’re professional or amateur or obsessed or just interested. Access to information and access to free and open information is the rebar that keeps Western democracy from sliding to the sand and into the water. It’s a slippery and risky tool, of course, this powerful network that gives us the ability for obscene good – but also opportunistic tragedy and evil. We have never been more informed and, in some ways, less educated. That’s what a pessimist would say. For every enlightening voice that the Internet has given a mic to, because they might not have been given a chance in the old or traditional media apparatus – where authority and experience were stacked on top of anything fresh and hungry until those needed, youthful perspectives were diluted until they sounded just like everything else already there, stale and boring and entrenched – the pessimist will say there’s been another, harmful, misleading and destructive mole that’s popped up to be whacked. But that’s baby and bathwater. Flush one, you lose the other. And to do that, to condemn the medium and ignore those who are exploiting it, is only to aid the fools and the hateful and the scared and regressive.

To take down the entire news business just to hopefully catch a few spammers in the cross-hairs, which is at least what’s happening verbally in the wake of Donald Trump’s election – and let’s call fake news what it is really is, it’s spam – is as stupid as incinerating all of Vietnam to catch a few communists, or carpet-bombing the home of every and any Iraqi to catch Saddam.

We don’t need reaction. We need surgery and precision.

We need the courage and patience to eat around the brown spot on the banana. We need to stand up to bullshit without stomping on the garden. When you blame Facebook and social media and the Internet and democracy for the faults of humans beings who are actively and intentionally sharing and endorsing nonsense, you’re letting real and actual, shitty people off the hook.

There’s no artificial intelligence here. Well, there is… but not in the way we normally mean when we use that phrase.

Facebook and Twitter don’t spread fake news… people do. People write it. People want to believe it. People do believe it. People who pour water on weeds are liable. And, let’s be honest here, if you believe any of the most popular, made-up headlines from this past election, there’s a fat chance you’re intelligent enough to have made a responsible vote anyway.

Sarah Palin Bans Muslims From Entering Bristol PalinRUPAUL CLAIMS TRUMP TOUCHED HIM INAPPROPRIATELY IN THE 1990sPence: “Michelle Obama Is The Most Vulgar First Lady We’ve Ever Had”Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide

And, of course, STILL PENDING! FINAL ELECTION 2016 NUMBERS: TRUMP WON BOTH POPULAR ( 62.9 M-62.2 M ) AND ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES ( 306-232)…HEY CHANGE.ORG, SCRAP YOUR LOONY PETITION NOW!

If you believe any of these, hard to imagine you’re going to make use of proper reporting, as a voter or as an individual. (Dive into a Globe and Mail or a New York Times or Wall Street Journal or any of your community papers and you’ll see a rich flow of stories and issues in there, as you will on any serious website or news site, and few if any of those pieces deserve to be only skimmed or eye-rolled at or ignored.)

And if you believe made-up, grammatically insane atrocities like the “articles” above are any equivalent to the honest oversights or mistakes that hard-working journalists are susceptible to, then I guess this column I’m writing isn’t for you. (Remember – for every time the ‘mainstream media’ has pissed you off or failed you, from the Times‘ WMD catastrophe to CNN’s 24-hour circle-jerk coverage of this election, there’s been Watergate or Spotlight or the countless other unshared, thankless, still important stories that deserve to cherished and defended.)

Sure, many of the fakest and most socially shared articles from this past election cycle weren’t as obvious or as extra-terrestrial as the ones I’ve linked to. A few of them were most definitely believable or at least conceivable – that made-up meme of Donald Trump slamming Republican voters as stupid and brainwashed in the 90s, for example.

And yes, social media and the web have allowed us to too-conveniently block any news or facts we disagree with, while also flooding us with enough of the opposite, articles and columns and quotes that will only entrench us deeper into our probably moronic first instincts. If you want to hate something, you’ll find someone who agrees with you… and if you want to love something, you’ll find someone who agree with you, no matter the accuracy, context, or error. And yes, all this serves to confuse us and divide us – and somehow, ironically, make us feel more confident in our wrong convictions all the same.

But here’s the thing… we’ve always had this ability. We’ve always been tricked and pulled and tweezed like this.

When you subscribe to a newspaper, you choose which one you want. When you turn on your TV, you choose which channel you’ll watch. You choose whether you’ll read or watch the news at all. Reporters and editors choose with stories to cover, which ones to ignore, which ones to give prime retail to, which ones to bury.

We’ve always been able to blind ourselves from the inconvenient truths and realities of the world around us. We’ve always been able to barricade ourselves in our homes or within our religion or our communities, treating our suspicions and fears as legitimate threats or eventualities.

The tentacles of America’s biggest cities – and Canada’s biggest cities, and the biggest cities in whichever country you live in – have always stopped short. There’s always been blind spots. Honest-in-their-efforts TV reporters and newsrooms have never been able to ensure the right messages are getting to the people most in need of hearing them. And because reporters and editors and writers are people, too, they’re prey to the same faults and fuck-ups.

But I’ll take this world we have today over the way it was. Without question. Because even when it feels like two steps forward and one step back, you’re still ahead of where you started.

Because while this choice and access has given us choice and access to the worst, it’s also given us choice and access to the best. To the brightest. To those who deserve to be heard or read or watched, who perhaps wouldn’t be without the web – who otherwise may have been stunted and stuck in a newsroom’s bureaucracy or company’s branches and neutered for the most productive parts of their career. I’ll take the gluttonous digestion of content and the humour and the light that social media allows, and I’ll take and keep the newspapers as well, if you’re about to ask – I have no interest in spitting on expertise just because it’s familiar, or allowing brands like The New York Times or Washington Post or Boston Globe or Toronto Star or Globe and Mail or National Post to be slandered just because their reporting doesn’t unequivocally support your narrow view or your uneducated diagnosis.

Opinion is not the same as bias, and bias is not the same as bullshit.

‘Fake news’ is a problem, but it’s not Facebook’s problem – it’s our problem. Your problem.