This post may be late because it’s a certain snarky blog poster’s birthday on Sunday, the 24th….
Welcome back to the hellscape ^.^ This week, we’re exploring the circumstances that led to a post-truth Internet and the creation of a platform that is responsible now, more than ever, for spreading more “fake” content than real.
There Are Only “Okay” Buttons
In this day and age, I think it’s a given for most of us to believe that more than half of what we see online is fake. At the very least, we don’t necessarily believe that the content we encounter online has a high truthiness factor. This may be exclusive to younger generations but I do think it is a growing sentiment, regardless of political or social leanings in many case. No one believes everything they see online anymore.
This week, we explored some of the strategies people can use in order to determine whether or not a source of information is credible. One of the methods we explored is Mike Caulfield’s “Four Moves“. I consider this a “work backwards” method. Essentially, before considering how truthful information is, you should look at the context in which this information exists–Are there other sources cited within the source? Are there other credible publications put out by this source? Can claims made within be verified by other sources? No? If not, why? To me, these all seem like basic moves one makes while conducting thorough and rigorous research. But, as we can see in this analysis of a suspect photo, these steps are apparently not so obvious.
Then why do so many people think the Internet is so fake if this kind of rigorous inspection of information is not so common?
Personally, I believe it is because of the recent and rigorous work of others done in exposing cover-ups both online and IRL that has made people more suspicious in this age. Also, I think political leanings have served to make people suspicious of all information they come across online, especially if it contradicts their world view and regardless of whether or not it comes from a credible source. We are living in “shady” times and I think the Internet has been used in the service of being shady but has also served as a microscope through which to inspect this shady activity.
Anyway, like being tracked online, I think this idea that the Internet is fake is a concept many of us now take as a given and, really, have come to expect. We don’t necessarily all remember a time when the Internet was a place where you could be fake and it didn’t matter. Which, is another aspect of this issue: the idea of being fake online is almost entirely associated with nefarious activity or with this sense of wrongdoing. Basically, if you aren’t you online, the same you you are IRL, then you have something to hide or you are purposefully trying to fool people into believing you are something you are not. There’s no playfulness or idea of experimenting with identity anymore. (Well, I do think some of that is coming back but I’ll save that discussion for a future post.) I think our jadedness with the post-truth Internet could more aptly be described as an expression of our fears–our fears of being fooled or being ridiculed or being made fun of for falling for something we believed to be true. I believe there’s a lot of complex emotion wrapped up in our ideas about the Internet and it’s ability to rapidly and unrepentantly spread false information.
This article, by Max Read, explores the web of ideas surrounding the post-truth Internet. Essentially, the core argument of this article seems to be that it’s not just one component of the Internet that is fake–it’s all of them. There are fake people using fake sites made by fake businesses to, ultimately, make real money. According to this article, that’s largely the problem. Read states, “Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real.” Here, Read is referencing the concept of Inversion. Basically, the Inversion is the tipping point where “real” traffic becomes more suspect online than bot traffic or “unreal” traffic. Computer systems and tracking systems become more apt at tracking bot traffic than traffic on sites committed by real users. It has a strong Matrix texture to it, in some ways. I think Read makes a very compelling case in this article for more attention to be paid to fake news and online tracking around it but I’m not sure I totally buy into everything he’s saying. At least, I don’t necessarily agree with some of his premises.
Mainly, I find it contentious to say that we are anymore fake online than we are IRL. Sure, the Internet provides more opportunities to be fake in some regards but, ultimately, I think it is preposterous to say that we are anymore real outside of the Internet. With how much social, academic, professional, political, cultural, etc. conditioning we have experienced every second of every day, from the moment we are alive, I think it’s inaccurate to say we are real outside the Internet and fake online. Like, I can’t agree with that. I think it’s more nuanced. I think it’s more complicated. (Check out my thoughts on that here.)
Something important that Read does talk about and that I agree with is that only advertisers benefit from the current state of the Internet. Currently, the Internet is good for ads. This is, in large part, due to unregulated data tracking and places like “click farms”. It is far too easy to game the system.
“Episode 2” on the documentary series Do Not Track explores easy it is for different entities to track us, cull our data, and place targeted ads. Cookies, which are not regulated in the US
Communism is apparently cool so long as it’s for surveillance and everyone gets a cookie, can attach themselves to our computers and send back fairly comprehensive profiles based upon our data. It’s incredibly too simple.
It seems that so long as perpetuating and pedaling inaccurate information is profitable, it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Under this system, you and I only have value so long as we can generate revenue. More than that, it doesn’t seem to matter if you are I know what is and is not true because that has no value under this system. As stated in Do Not Track, there is no “No” button for cookies; only an “Okay” button. Even if there were value in demonstrating resistance, there’s no way to do it. Which, to me, seems pretty bleak. Like, the Panopticon doesn’t even care anymore if you know that there’s no one really in the tower. That’s scary.
All this said, I feel like I need to reaffirm my own belief in the power of truth and of speaking truth to power. Though it may not have any monetary value, truth is one of the most worthwhile currencies. Every may pass but the truth will always remain. It is gold. Right now, it may feel like we’re trying to get gold out of mercury, like it’s pointless to try for the truth let alone care about it. But, it’s important now more than ever that we are consistent in our efforts. The truth doesn’t always have to be the loudest voice to be heard; just the most consistent. Power will never hear a truth that isn’t voiced. More, you and I will never believe the truths we don’t reaffirm for ourselves. If anything, that is what the Internet is revealing to us.
This week, I added some articles to the field guide that elaborate more on how misinformation proliferates and perpetuates in online spaces. These articles focus on the problem of fake news and just how easily it is to spread on the Internet. I think these articles provide some reading strategies that could be useful for further developing digital literacy skills.
Daily Digital Alchemies
This week, I had some fun and created an alternate persona online named Veronica ^.^ She swears she has no idea where any emails may have gone or where any video tapes are or what the word “collusion” really means…..>.>
Also, I had some fun with pixelating an image of the night sky which I feel represents my feelings towards alchemy: that alchemy is a bright light in an otherwise dark sky. (Same as the truth.)
~Till next time~