Where do we get a large portion of our news and information from? Most likely a media source that makes money from advertising, donations, or some type of funding.
Other sources to think about are person to person or rumor. There is also personal experiences that many people can draw from. And what facilitates much of this consumption and/or interaction? The Internet, Television, and to a lesser extent print and radio broadcast.
The buzzword of the moment is of course “Fake News”. This is nothing new, in the old days we referred to propaganda, advertising, and fiction as “ Fake”. What’s considered fake to some people could be someone else’s reality. A lot of effort can put into supporting, persuading, or disproving what others believe. The current atmosphere is fertile for breeding distrust, especially in what we are presented with from multiple news and information sources. Can we believe anything anymore?
How do we differentiate between “Real News” (hopefully this refers to news based on truth), and “Fake News” (possibly based on dis-information and dishonesty). What do you do, follow the crowd, follow your own beliefs, or roll the dice and hope for the best when we consume information?
A current trend is to remove, block, or label some sources of “Fake News”. One group decides another group’s information is incorrect because they believe they are right, and anything they judge to be wrong – is. This is truly an oversimplification of the dilemma, but my point is not to determine what is “Real News” and What is “Fake News”, but how can anyone navigate through all the noise? Usually when there is a problem, we look for solutions, and to produce solutions we often use tools. People used to use rational thought, but what you consider rational thought may not be what someone else considers rational thought. So let’s concentrate on tools for now.
I checked out a few Chrome extensions that are presented as capable of differentiating between what is “Real” and what is “Fake” or “click-bait”. They also allow you to flag certain information as “Fake” or “Real”. So these flags are considered into the “Algorithm” that determines the “Authenticity” of the information presented. Links to “Fake” web sources are highlighted by some extensions. I tried out a few of these “tools” and wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure that I want to put too much faith into artificial intelligence and how many “flags” viewers assign to websites. This doesn’t mean I won’t do a little research when I come across something that doesn’t look or sound quite believable. A healthy dose of skepticism often works for me. I also rely on faith, not always a popular discourse, but sometimes faith is all some have to work with.
I shall abandon the search for an easy solution to filter out Real News from Fake News and leverage the power of the computer only to assist me in determining truth from fiction. We are not limited to a few popular (or formally popular) major news outlets, nor are we limited to only the most popular search engines. This is true for the moment, but will these options still be available in the future? Imagine if free speech was only allowed for the few and not for all. Imagine if one group of like minded individuals controlled all the information. Imagine if History was subjected to only one point of view, and if the future was subjected to restrictions instead of freedoms.
Imagine if we allowed a computer program to determine what was real and what was not.
Would it matter who wrote that program? Maybe what we currently believe to be real is actually fake, and what we perceive as fake is remarkably real. The problems show up when we create Fake News to facilitate an agenda. When propaganda is used as a means to inflict harm in order to build something up or tear something down. All this talk about Fake News sounds somewhat similar to malware, virus, and adware, yet an antivirus program is possibly more efficient in filtering out the bad stuff than some of the current Fake News filters. You would think a list of Fake News sites and a heuristic approach to identifying Fake News would be the most efficient way to weed out garbage, but even antivirus programs have their weaknesses.
How would such a program label religions, alternative medicine, or subjective reasoning?
If we include politics, we can see that what we are presented with often appears to lean one way or another. Not all news agencies appear to follow this objective, but most people can spot the entertainment value. Don’t forget “errors”. Even in the world of computers we deal with errors. Garbage in almost always results in garbage out. Just try not to process too much garbage in. The difference between humans and computers – at least presently, is not that you have the ability to think, but that you have the freedom to think. Don’t let that freedom slip away.
You may need it someday.