Monday, December 12, 2016

Eradicating the Cancer of Fake News

In a way, fake news is a lot like cancer.

Fake news has been in the real news a lot lately. It seems that a lot of people actually believe crazy wild made up stories that are promulgated on fake news websites and then spread through social media.

In a way, fake news is a lot like a cancerous tumor And there are three ways you can get rid of a cancerous tumor. First, you can try using surgery to remove the tumor. This is an expensive and dangerous process and it may not excise all of the cancer. Using this technique to eliminate fake news is also messy and dangerous. Due to the First Amendment, it is nearly impossible to shut down or close a fake news sites such as Breitbart. Moreover most fake news sites are located overseas, making such surgery nearly impossible. Vladimir Putin would  not appreciate it if we dropped a barrel bomb on a Russian troll Farm.

The second technique to eradicate the cancer is to attack it. Doctors use techniques like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy to attack a tumor and hopefully destroy it. This is akin to the technique being used by the media to attack fake news, and it isn't working very well. Every time the mainstream media tries to debunk a fake news story, it only seems to make the story stronger. Conspiracy theorists and paranoids want to believe fake news, and the media attacking a fake news story only validates the story in their mind. And in a way this is similar to how cancer reacts to attacks by morphing and mutating to become immune to such attacks. The work of Snopes and others isn't eliminating fake news, but rather making it stronger.

The third way to kill a tumor is to cut off its blood supply. A tumor, just like normal healthy tissue, needs nutrients to survive and it gets this through the bloodstream. If you cut off the flow of blood to the tumor it will wither and die. In the same way, fake news thrives on its own nutrients, in this case money. As shown in a recent New York Times article about a young teenage fake news author from Macedonia, the stream of money from online advertising is what drives him to come up with wilder and wilder stories about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Similarly, what drives Breitbart is the flow of advertising revenue from advertisers. And as we have discovered, often advertisers  don't realize where their advertisements are appearing on the internet. When you sign up for Internet advertising to sell your products or services, an intermediary agency places your ads on sites that get a lot of hits, regardless of the content of those sites.

This is a startling break from the past, where advertisers would carefully choose which programs, magazines, or newspapers to advertise in. In fact it was argued that sponsors would end up censoring programs if they contained what was considered sensitive content. Television producers lived in fear of sponsors withdrawing their support due to controversial content of the program. Today, sponsors may not even realize what content they are advertising on.

If sponsors took a more aggressive approach to avoiding advertising on radical and fake news websites, the flow of money to these sites would dry up and these sites we go out of business. We already saw this happen with the odious Glenn Beck  who today almost sounds rational compared to the current crop of political hacks. Beck lost his radio and television shows when sponsors fled due to the odious nature of his content. Toward the end his only sponsors were for penis enlargers and crooked loan deals as well as the gold that he was selling himself. The supply of nutrients was cut off to his show and it withered and died. Of course today he is just merely in remission on the internet. 

It is possible that if the supply of money was cut off from these fake news sites by more carefully policing sponsorships, that these types of sites would wither and die as well.  Macedonian teenagers would cease writing fake news stories if there was no money in it. Of course others might still continue to write fake news stories for political advantage, including right-wing fringe groups and foreign governments such as Russia. So it is not a foolproof solution either.

Of course the ultimate cure would be to come up with a vaccine to prevent such a cancer in the first place.  And that vaccine is education. Our founding fathers realized that an educated populus was necessary in order for democracy to work. To that end our country has pushed public education as essential not merely for job training but to provide the necessary critical thinking skills necessary to make rational decisions in a Democratic Republic.

However, over the last few decades, our educational system has been systematically stripped of any critical thinking skill teaching. The far-right has eviscerated our educational system by arguing that we should concentrate on Reading Writing and Arithmetic and basic skills, rather than complex thinking skills. Not only that, our basic history courses have been altered and dumbed down and our science courses have been replaced with religion.

As a result our immune system is weak, which is why fake news stories have spread like wildfire. We have a whole new generation of citizens in this country who are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible or favorable to them. This poor bastard who drove to Washington to "self-investigate" a pizza shop is now wondering what the hell happened to him. Perhaps he is now starting to realize that he has been lied to by unseen forces for no apparent reason. Of course others see it differently, thinking the entire situation is merely another part of the conspiracy.

And speaking of conspiracies, which I've written about many times before, have you ever stopped to think about the one thing that all conspiracy theories have in common? Think about it for a second, the moon landing hoax conspiracy, the Kennedy assassination conspiracy, the aliens in Area 51 conspiracy, the 9/11 truther conspiracy, and so on. What do they all have in common?

The answer is quite simple. They all deal with the United States. And if you believe in any of these conspiracy theories, it works to the disadvantage of the United States. The moon landing hoax conspiracy, for example, denigrates one of the greatest achievements of mankind but more particularly one of the greatest achievements of the United States. The Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories perpetuate the idea that our government is corrupt and vile as do the 9/11 truther conspiracies and various theories about aliens in Area 51.

Conspiracy theorists want to think that our government is vile and corrupt and should be abolished, when in fact it is one of the best forms of government ever devised by mankind, particularly when you compare it to other governments across our planet.

If you think about that, it starts to become clear who these conspiracy theories favor and where they might be coming from. In other words is entirely possible these are all part of a disinformation campaign designed to rot our country from within.  People today are more willing to believe rumors then truth.

The Epitaph of our country will be written, that freedom was killed by a rumor.