Our fake news™ Editor-in-Chief addresses the commotion surrounding aggregated misinformation and the meaning of the “media company” label.
My favorite short story of all time was published by the Southern Literary Messenger in the summer of 1835. It compiles all of my favorite story elements into one painfully tedious body: absurd proper nouns, completely unbelievable premises, lighter-than-air craft, exploratory context, and an utterly unsatisfactory aftertaste. Technically, it’s a hoax, and could only have been spawned by the most frustrating comic of them all — Edgar Allan Poe.
If you find yourself one day reading his collected works cover-to-cover, The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall is how you’ll be introduced. I’m sure the ‘ole sadist would be pleased at the thought of you crawling your way through his exhausting thirty-page-long description of the bellow-mender’s space balloon and its bizarre journey.
Originally, I’d remembered incorrectly — a bit of light research says Pfall was a bit too absurd to be overwhelmingly believed, but it was believed — that an indebted laborer obsessively constructed a DIY dirigible which he flew to the moon before managing to convince a lunarian to use it to deliver his surgically-detailed chronicle of the journey to be read publicly in front of his township’s civic leaders, only to have the scoop exclusively broken by a small arts periodical.
In fact, it caused enough hubbub to inspire an entire subera of similarly-styled hoaxes, many from the originator, himself.
It’s no secret that Poe was as bitter as he was brilliant, so I’ve found myself again and again wondering, lately, what/if he would have spoken amidst his country’s 2016 election for President. As I’ve known him — much more intimately than most; much less than a few — I would posit that his brilliant, suffering mind would’ve been locked in the most productive year-long mania of his career. He was the sort of extraordinary man who was disgusted by the existence of anything less.
I think he would’ve played the tricks of Search Engine Optimization, engagement, and news aggregation with a veracity that could’ve swung an election, if we accept the recent verdict against some good-humored Macedonian adolescents.
His laughter would be abruptly stayed, though, if you told him that ten percent of the adult population is illiterate, two centuries later and twenty years into the single most profound renaissance in the history of human communication. Though a nearly-equivalent upset could probably be had by informing him that his best-known work by a vast margin has since been The Raven, but I’ll spare you that subject for a less-topical dissertation.
How do I begin an argument about intellectual disparity in America?
“You got the President you deserve”?
“Deserve” is no less ignorant of a concept as “truth,” so that’d be awfully hypocritical. Not that hypocrisy gives me any sort of pause, whatsoever, as a purveyor of fake news. Perhaps I should begin with an overview of Extratone’s bias on advertising.
Total advertising revenue we have received to date: $0. Total number of advertisements that have appeared on extratone dot com to date: 3. Total number of advertisements for non-defunct companies that have appeared on extratone dot com to date: 0.
As of this moment, advertising is Google, more or less, which means they are one of the few companies on Earth with the sort of cash flow to even consider attempting to craft a standard of maliciousness (the only useful spectrum I could come up with that could accomplish the goal of “eliminating financial incentives that appear to have driven the production of much fake news.”)
I suppose the first authority on intent would be the Church, but I — a fake news writer — have been unable to arrive upon the method Jesus Christ would choose to go about eliminating communion.
But The Lord has forsaken this place — we have only Google, now, and — as the resident omnipotence, it is They alone who can stay what They have made. So perhaps that smelly gentlemen wondering aloud about the “second coming” on the bus stop bench is actually smarter than you, but unable to foresee the digital setting of his apocalypse. If Google is our neo-God, surely Walt Mossberg is now the pope. Yesterday morning, he addressed Facebook (neo-Hell,) commanding them to behave like the “media company” he believes they are.
I would like to imagine that Mark Zuckerberg is hissing, currently.
He cites a Pew Research Center study that was conducted this past Spring, which found that “44 percent of the U.S. adult population got at least some of its news from Facebook.” I’d like to point all 2000 of my greasy, thumping, slanderous fingers at the beginning sentence of the next paragraph, though: “but that puts a heavy responsibility on Facebook…”
Who exactly is placing this burden on Facebook? Have we actually reached the point of social media as a public service? Perhaps their influence on the country’s psychology is enormous enough to exempt from all of the cheques that guarantee freedom of information exchange.
Thank God… perhaps FarmVille shall finally face its Day of Judgement.
All the requests from one acquaintance of mine are stressing me out, and federal employees have not forcibly changed their foul-ass color scheme yet, so I cannot navigate deep enough to block her without becoming physically ill. Don’t get me wrong — hanging Mark Zuckerberg by the Neck Until Dead for treason would make for quite a spectacle, but I cannot help but wonder if you have forgotten one of your most irritating expressions: don’t blame the messenger.
I hate to be rude, but POTUS Tumper is the definite sign: you are responsible for your choices and your ignorance. Volition in informed media consumption is the only effective weapon with which one should combat deception.
For some perspective, know that I came shamefully close to falling for a fucking phone scam a few days ago. I didn’t end up costing my company, but I came within inches of doing so. I hadn’t experienced such all-consuming embarrassment in a decade. But — as life experiences tend to be — it was humbling, and preparatory — I’m sure — for the next time I must identify dishonesty.
I appreciate the sentiment of personalities like Mossberg and the effort they expend in the name of my protection as a user, but I must be allowed to discern the nature of content for myself, especially when using a service who’s CEO is publicly crying “we do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves.” Whether or not Facebook has the cash to deliberate on, design, or redesign algorithms and/or other software to combat inauthentic content sources is irrelevant.
Max Read’s account of the process as it relates to the election is the sharpest one-take I’ve seen thus far. In it, he suggests that the sheer size of Facebook’s audience “would seem to demand some kind of civic responsibility.” And — while it is now undeniable that it is “the most efficient distributor of misinformation in human history,” I must speak for the general readership and note that when we are “misled,” it is out of our own failing diligence, intellect, and/or education as ballot-eligible adults.
As far as myself and my editorial course are concerned, it is tremendously disrespectful to remove a reader’s volition in their consumption. If there is “blame” for the votes in this election, the single polite course of action is to leave it on the voters, indefinitely. Any alternative is what we’d brand an acute theft of will. Volition in informed media consumption is the only effective weapon with which one should combat deception.
It’s not a contentious sentiment — assuming competence from all participants when legislation or demand are concerned. If it were, the safteynet wouldn’t be focused on such a small portion of digital disinformation as misaggregated news represents, but instead on the highly-potent culture of Google AdWords cons, or the longstanding institution of email phishing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not the biggest fan of Zuckerberg’s Culturesuck. I founded our flagship podcast around reprehending it, and see plenty of evidence that it’s profoundly effected Western psychology in a startling way, but attacking the issue in an ethical context is tremendously inefficient, if nothing else.
Yes, it would make for an entertaining story, watching Google and Facebook hurl their masses of cash at the 9th commandment, but it’d be much better spent remaking the critical readership in American society. A federal program to confront the ~10% adult illiteracy rate might be a better place to start.