Pin It
Caseythoughts Being what some call a 'news junkie' for such a long time, I am inordinately interested in the continuing issue of not only what is deemed and termed 'fake news' (define as you wish, for I think there are at least three iterations/examples of this phenomena these days preceding the present administration) but also the more important question of 'what should we do about it?'

So, I'm going to try something and I need your help. I'm going to quote at length a piece from the Wall Street Journal, written on April 3rd, 2019 by Thomas Grove. There's the complete attribution and this is an experiment. I'm going to 'blank out' all the proper nouns in the story. You, dear reader, can feel free to leave the blanks blank as you read, or fill them in with whatever proper noun/name you feel is correct and/or appropriate. Pencils ready? This is a test. Begin.

(Dateline: ____________) "(Blank) authorities are seeking unprecedented control over the internet with a proposed new law that would more effectively filter information coming into the country and allow (Blank) to cut itself off from global online traffic in a crisis. President (Blank) has presented the bill as a necessary measure to fight the threat of (Blank) cyber attacks on (Blank) internet infrastructure, but free speech activists say the law, expected to be passed in the coming months, is an attempt to clamp down on online dissent. "Under the pretext of our own security, they're trying to sell us a second-hand, beta version of the Chinese firewall", said (Blank), a lawyer and member of (Blank), an internet freedom advocacy group. The stated purpose of the bill, which passed through one reading in (Blank), is two-fold. It will give (Blank)'s communications power to more effectively control proscribed websites and direct access to the flow of information passing into the country's internet infrastructure from abroad and between internet exchange points. The anticipated new law would make (Blank) one of the first countries apart from (Blank) to attempt to take control of the internet on a national level. (Blank) has consulted with (Blank) over internet protections. Some observers have called (Blank)'s plan an attempt at nationalizing the internet, one that could help insulate the country against cyber attacks from abroad in the event that tensions between (Blank) and (Blank) ever escalate to cyber attacks against critical infrastructure... ...(Blank) spokesman (Blank) told journalists in February that a number of cyber attacks on (Blank) had originated from (Blank) and (Blank) in previous years and that (Blank) had to prepare further measures to take control of the internet. The law will also likely mandate the roll-out across the country of an advanced method of monitoring network traffic called deep packet inspection, boosting (Blank) authorities' ability to surveil internet users' traffic and block restricted sites...."

Now, back to my Thoughts. Considering the continuing discussions and passionate arguments (not even to mention Zuckerburg's bleets about restricting content) which seemed to center around the 2016 American election, trolling, 'fake news' and, more broadly, the question of monitoring internet traffic, you may find it interesting that the blanks above were referencing Russia, and Russia's parliament, which is actually, but not surprisingly, considering the bill in question.

What I found fascinating, in my own obtuse thoughts, is that inserting 'United States', 'Congress', etc. did not materially affect the gist of the story, if read perfunctorily. As a matter of fact, some would think that it seemed just as believable, even downright truthful.

That's a stunning thought, if potentially true. If you've the time and inclination, go back and fill in the blanks above with 'U.S.' and 'Congress' instead of Russia as the country in question, McConnel/Schumer/Trump instead of Putin.

Of course, doing the substitution exercise is exactly what many of the trolls and fake-news-ers have been doing, and SNOPES and other rumor 'bloodhounds' can no longer keep up while an awful lot of people are looking and calling upon the government (ours, remember) to attempt to control the flood. Reddit, Facebook, and other biggies already employ hundreds, thousands of people to babysit sites in an attempt to put their collective thumbs in the dike. A recent example was the horrific shooting in New Zealand that the perp 'live-streamed' and censors frantically tried to stop it from going viral, failing miserably.

Photo-shopping, rewritten stories and edited real stories to a specific false point of view like the one I just cited from a reputable news source like the WSJ have already overwhelmed the capacity of the internet infrastructure and at this point many in power seem to believe (and their concerned constituents are echoing, from both sides of the political spectrum) that the only way to 'protect' us is to let government's nose in the internet content tent.

First, I think it's important as a side note that several studies have suggested that it's not the 'under 30's' who are being affected or fall for 'fake news'. These studies seem to definitively point out that it is the 'over 50's' who frequent, cite and pass on these stories, photos and footage, quite possibly due to a lack of sophisticated knowledge (and, yes, due to bias confirmation), with disreputable source stories able to scam even the more sophisticated reader or viewer.

Secondly, just as importantly, is a phrase/question which was put to me during one of my radio interviews years ago: "Would you rather be safe, or free?" The two concepts, as extremes, can be seen on a continuum, or spectrum, with neither extreme being actually perfectly attainable. We'll never be totally safe nor totally free. It's what point on the spectrum/continuum would you choose to 'reside'?

You have some individual capacity to choose where you would like to be and you make those choices possibly several times a day, certainly choosing it in a manner of speaking when utilizing the internet for news and information. The point is, in reality, how much of that choice re you willing to turn over to Congress and laws to set up a buffer or 'censor' (remember, Russia and China have opted for the state's safety, not 'freedom').

Since so much of the public discourse revolves around education of our country (or lack of, it seems) in the public funding of schools, charter schools, curriculum, preparing children for life, norms and outcomes, even balancing checkbooks and real life situational issues, why can't we make an attempt to look at a serious and sincere effort to really educate as many Americans as possible about how to "read" the news. Not just 'spot fake news' but really utilize the news as citizens should? In other words, if you please, utilize education in place of another and another and another law, all purporting to make us 'safe', while handing more and more power and freedom to discern and decide over to unnamed and unknown authority.

I think we need a 'Sputnik' moment redux in America: a national push, again, to educate not just our kids (who apparently have more savvy about these things than their parents or grandparents) but as many as possible on how to become our own 'filters', our own editors. Because if we don't get this phase of technological advancement right (the advent of radio, television, automobiles and airplanes in the past one hundred years don't come close to the potential societal change going on right under our noses), if we don't figure out how to slide the spectrum indicator toward (more) 'freedom', we will surely let some in our society slide the spectrum indicator to 'safety' and this would not bode well for what we view as freedom. And freedom is, in the short and long run, the only thing that will keep us ultimately 'safe'.


Pin It