Fake it till you make it – why we invented fake news

It is a rare privilege to see how your own society makes the transformation from one era to the next.

While it may only be possible to confirm this transformation in retrospect, all the signs are that we are now undergoing such a transition. We might well be abandoning the last vestiges of the Enlightenment, are moving away from trusting institutions as part of post-modernism, and are fully embracing the post-truth era. The battle cry for this transformation: FAKE NEWS

 

 

But what is fake news actually?

Wikipedia describes it as deliberate disinformation, mainly on news channels or in social media, often motivated by possible political or financial gains. Sounds simple, but there is at least one catch: what is disinformation?

Disinformation is not the same as misinformation or a lie. These kind of untruths are way easier to identify. For an untruth I need an objective truth, which I can derivate from. Something like, rocks are made of grass and melt in the sun, and this untruth must then proveable as false with the matching truth. Disinformation does not, however, need to be false per se. It is perfectly adequate for disinformation to analyze a situation, where there is no right or wrong, where there are is objective truth. After all, in these areas there can be no logical conclusion, and so true and false increasingly become emotional gut decisions. And as soon as any decision becomes emotional, the combination of the existing information and the choice of words primarily determines our perception of truth. From a technical point of view, freedom fighters and violent insurgents are the same, and every project is green until the first milestone falls by the wayside.

 

Unfortunately the space in which objective truths exists is tiny, if it exists at all. The “fact” that the Earth is a disc at the center of the universe was long regarded as an absolute truth, thalidomide an effective drug, and monarchs had a God-given right to rule. Today we know consider all of these suppositions to be false. But the process of getting there was not always easy, for there is always a correlation between a power structure and what is seen as true. Anyone that threatens the current truth, also threatens the current balance of power. This inevitably leads to a different question being asked. “What is true?” no longer matters. Now it is all about “Which truth suits me?”

The conflict between truth and self-interest takes many forms. From companies that produce studies which magically happen to always favor “scientifically” their own point of view, to mass propaganda that led millions of soldiers to believe killing each other would improve the world. In the end, the truth seems to have lost the conflict. We believe what others say less and less, and often only if we like the implications. And what about the facts where that does not apply? Now they are simply alternative facts. And reporting those facts? That is what we call fake news. It will be interesting to observe over the next few years just how this fake news will change us as a society.

PS: Whether you are dealing with disinformation here, you will only know once you have gotten the information for yourself. Would you notice if we introduced fake news here?

    Martin Betz

    Senior Expert HR Automation & Innovation
    Deutsche Telekom AG

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