The News, But Fake

What is Fake News? Surely, the term deserves a few dozen dissertations at this point and no doubt, we will get them.

What is Fake News? Surely, the term deserves a few dozen dissertations at this point and no doubt, we will get them. But, let’s for now think a little bit about what it means through the way we react to hearing it said. Maybe when you hear it said, it’s coming from the mouth of Donald Trump or Doug Ford or Nigel Farage, and you think it’s sort of funny, maybe even making a larger point about the bias of the media and the ‘elitists’. It might not actually mean that the news in question is fake, but rather that the system through which news is disseminated is so discredited in your eyes that there’s no point in believing anything in particular. Perhaps, when you hear it, you know that most likely, the news in question is real. Fake News is Real News. Or, at least, if someone suggests news is fake, they are in fact trying to muddy the waters, and deflect something that is quite real. Or, maybe the phrase is simply essential to understanding the era in which we live. What doesn’t Fake News tell us?

But what happens when we are faced with news that is actually fake? When the deliberate manufacturing of news that is not real is foisted upon a public so as to exacerbate beliefs, biases, antagonisms? Last week, we got a taste of what is almost certainly going be a deluge of Actual Fake News in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. A doctored video of Nancy Pelosi, slowed down and altered to make her appear drunk, slurred, confused. The clip was shared thousands of times in a matter of hours, viewed millions of times, leaping from across the internet, onto Fox News, and almost inevitably, into the Twitter feed of one President Trump. 

All the obvious cynical politics aside, the clip itself was not even a particularly good fake. It was simply slowed down, the voice altered to sound a little like Pelosi’s actual tone, and away it went. Facebook refused to take down the video because they thought the video was meant as satire. Even more laughable, instead of taking the video down they put up a convoluted non–warning warning suggesting that some fact checkers (who everyone trusts without question, right?) say the video is fake. A Facebook spokesperson declared “We think it’s up to people to make an informed choice what to believe.” Comforting stuff, indeed.

What we have here is just the most recent example of how unable we have been to deal with the ever–unfolding technology that has sent our society and politics into warp speed. Also, it reveals that there’s no real possibility of slowing it down either. Instead, we can’t do much but careen from debacle to debacle with ever–increasing speed. 

As if on queue, days after the Pelosi mess, Samsung announced the ability to bring portrait photos to life. Yes, this is real news. The technology is able to make photos ‘speak’. The implications are far too vast to list in the confines of this article, but to be sure danger looms. The ability to easily craft fake news about anyone, anywhere, is coming and it will not be stopped. 

If you thought you couldn’t trust what you see now, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Want to try to get someone fired? Want to destroy someone’s reputation? That ability, and so much more, is on its way. The levels of distrust our society is experiencing right now is nothing more than the first taste. There’s every chance that the technology that has come to dictate almost all of our communication swallows itself, and destroying any semblance of a distinction between truth and lie. 

What emerges from this is simply impossible to know at this juncture. Who would be leaned on to adjudicate in this type of environment? How would you be able to contest a charge from another person, or the state? Maybe we could create some technology that makes it easy to determine the authenticity of a picture, a video, a sound? Is there an answer that is not based within the same framework of technology that is leading to this state of disrepair? What will happen to our mental health is a landscape where it becomes so difficult to trust your eyes? When even an attempt to make an ‘informed choice’ about the validity of any given thing is itself rife with pitfalls? Don’t worry too much. There’s every chance we won’t have to worry about this stuff for that much longer. After all, the news is out; there’s aliens. Now to figure out if that news is real or fake. V

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