Reading 10: Sophistry and Illusion

From the readings, what exactly is meant by the term “Fake News”? Do you find the deluge of this content as harmless, annoying, or dangerous? Should technology companies monitor and suppress “Fake News”?

Fake news is the term for any misinformed or untrustworthy news articles or posts on social media. These posts are intended to be misleading in such a way that it influences the people reading them into acting a certain way or supporting the candidate of their choice. I find that most of this content tends to be extremely annoying, especially when people take fake news articles as fact, but I also believe that Fake News can be much more harmful than people like to give it credit for. There is a tendency for people to entirely disregard “trashy” news sources (National Enquirer, Vox, BuzzFeed to name a few), but there are much more subtle ways of influencing people in ways that they don’t even realize, which has the ability even to swing elections. People often misunderstand what product major social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are selling; sure, they’re data mining the Hell out of us in ways that many people would consider unethical and selling that data, but what the consumer should expect in return is a combination of trust and convenience. We’ve addressed the convenience issue before, so I’ll focus on trust here.

When you log into the social media site of your choice, you expect to see true and honest content. That is, the actual posts that your friends or followees intend for you to see, you trust that your private messages are kept private, and you trust that you will be shown content that is verified to be safe for you to see. Advertisements are part of this list, and companies that violate this trust should bear full responsibility for any violation of this trust. Namely, it’s up to the social media companies to filter out the fake news to preserve this trust between them and their consumers.

 

Take a look at your Facebook or social media feeds and that of your friends and family. Does it contain “Fake News”? If so, how much? What is your response when you see such items?

I don’t use any form of social media other than Snapchat. Even then, I don’t look at the sponsored or promoted stories.

 

What is the responsibility of social media platform providers such as Facebook and Twitter in regards to regulating “Fake News”? Are you comfortable with a private entity censoring information?

I discussed above how the use of fake news can break the trust between the social media platform and the user. From the user’s perspective, I log into a site expecting to be able to use the service without being threatened or manipulated. As an internet user, I always expect there to be malicious parties wanting to influence me into believing something, and there’s nothing to stop them from purchasing ads on the social media platforms that I’m using. It’s up to the social media platforms themselves to remove these posts. Influencing parties are able to target demographics in more sophisticated ways than ever before, and now it’s taking a toll on the users, who have to put up with this deluge of noise and falsehoods. It reminds me in particular of the famous quote from David Hume, “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?” No. “Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?” No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

 

What is the responsibility of news or content aggregators such as Facebook and Google in regards to regulating “Fake News”? Are you comfortable with a private entity classifying information as “fake”?

The only responsible, non-partisan way I can think to resolve the fake news issue would be to include more thorough vetting for news articles posted on social media platforms. That is, companies such as Facebook or Google might require including primary sources with articles and deny posting power to those who don’t go through this process. As I stated in my last post, I’m okay with most of the actions that companies take, even Facebook or Google, as long as they’re transparent about their actions. People would be much more trusting of a platform that has thorough vetting of articles and is clear about what news content can be posted. These companies need their users to trust them, and they know it. As long as the posting criteria are clear to the users, I’m perfectly comfortable with social media platforms classifying information as fake or misleading. In fact, I believe that this would be a key step to reestablishing trust between platforms and their users.

 

What role do you believe “Fake News” played in the 2016 presidential election? Is the current focus on “Fake News” warranted or not?

As the readings state, the term “Fake News” played a significant role in the election outcome, although I hesitate to say that the posters of these fake news articles or the Russian hackers who were accused of influencing the elections are entirely responsible. There will always be parties looking to influence elections for not-so-ethical reasons and intervening in elections might be the most American practice of all. In the case of the 2016 election, the Russians and alt-right activists who were responsible for spreading Fake News have ushered in a new era of information warfare through incredibly effective advertising campaigns. With this in mind, the current focus on fake news is very much warranted. With that kind of power at hand, what other malicious parties might be attempting to influence us?

We’re now in an awkward period of lagging. We know the power that online advertising can yield, but nobody really understands how subtle or targeted these influences can be, sowing seeds of mistrust between the media and the people who get their information from it. I believe that these issues can be resolved with increased transparency, as with many of the issues I’ve talked about before.

 

How much do you rely on social media such as Facebook or Twitter for your daily news? Are you living in an echo chamber or even concerned about a filter bubble? If so, what are some ways to break out of the bubble?

I don’t use social media for my news sources, although I’m very concerned that I’m living in a filter bubble with no explanation as to how my content is being censored. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any effective ways to break out of the bubble. The content that I’m being shown is censored, and I just have to operate under the assumption that they are trying to influence me into a certain way of thinking.