Perspective Red Letters Technology Tump Words

Pfaall for President

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…”
 
Why?
 
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.
Edi­tor-in-Chief