The Sydney Morning Herald By Tom Dick Posted Sun., Nov.13, 2016
Fake news has come of age. Not fake as in Hillary Clinton’s email faux-scandal, in which the kernel of truth became exaggerated popcorn for a planet, but fake as in utterly devoid of any reality. Complete fantasy. Fiction probably made up by some kids in Macedonia.
And if it was fake news about Clinton, it could have been made up by some kids in Macedonia. As reported by BuzzFeed and The Guardian, a bunch of bogus pro-Trump and anti-Clinton reports came from websites published in Macedonia, the operators of which aimed to make money by having sensational reports shared on Facebook.
An American user’s attention is worth more, and a sensational report is shared more quickly, even if it’s wrong.
Cue 140,000 likes, shares and comments on Facebook for a fake report Clinton was to be indicted, which BuzzFeed discovered was published in Veles, Macedonia, population 45,000.
Cue the fake story the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump, which as Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out was shared over 960,000 times, versus 36,000 shares for the story properly debunking it.
Cue the satirical story that Clinton had bought a $200 million development in the Maldives, reposted with apparent seriousness far too many times to be funny.
It’s never been a better time to be a bullshitter, a conspiracy theorist, a peddler of lies. Social media has democratised news, but the effects are still emerging, including that of presenting fake news alongside the accurate kind, both competing for our attention within the deluge of information and misinformation shared on Facebook.
The social media giant faces an onslaught of criticism that its algorithms promote fake news, a dire problem when it has far more daily users in the US than voted in last week’s elections.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg isn’t worried. “I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” he said in California two days after the election. “I think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason why someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw some fake news.”
But just as concerning is the seeming inability of too many readers to distinguish fake news from real, those who share bullshit because it aligns with their views.
Ernest Hemingway told The Atlantic back in 1954 that everyone should have “a built-in automatic crap detector” operating inside them. “It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down.”
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