Wishes for 2017: Will this be the year when we start discussing influence in a digital democracy?

Care less about fake news and more about how it spreads
On the one hand, trolls (New Yorker) are actively spreading obvious lies (like the #pizzagate, see Wikipedia) on social media and we hear that this, somehow, should be forbidden (NYT). We are told that foreign actors (read “Russia”) are seeking to interfere with political processes and influence the results of elections through fake news (The Daily Beast, The Washington Post).

On the other hand, after only a couple of weeks of existence, the very concept of fake news is already broken (The Washington Post). Because of course, fake news has long existed (CJR) and is only a tiny part of the iceberg (Slate): media outlets are politically partisan and make mistakes (CJR), we don’t know in advance what we mean by “the truth,” and unfortunately, the truth produced by scientists is often not the one your search engine promotes (The Guardian, crucial read)

We need to have a discussion not about news in themselves, but about how they spread online (Medium), and how they become effective at influencing people (Medium), because there will always be people wanting to interfere and because our democracies are too vulnerable to digital interferences. Can we slow down the spread of certain potentially harmful information (NYT)? How do we make buzz-making more closely aligned to truth-making? How do we reduce the vulnerability of our political processes to outside influence (Esquire)? How can digital platforms such as Facebook help solve this “content crisis” (NPR)?

My prediction for 2017 is that we’ll shift from the debate on fake news and Facebook to a debate about how social media’s use of persona data enables micro-targeting in harmful ways, and discuss the legitimacy and responsibility of tech giants to moderate content on their platforms, beyond a self-proclaimed but self-serving “neutrality.”


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