The Washington Post today published an article titled ‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America [no paywall.]
The article lays out examples of how our media (social or otherwise) may be contributing not just to foreign interference with elections, but to domestic tranquility and even government functioning.
The post reports (as news) an American receiving a message saying:
“What viral insanity should we spread this morning?”
and reports the reply as:
“The more extreme we become, the more people believe it,”
Assuming the Post's report itself is true, this shows that fake news is a completely real phenomenon. Putting partisan politics aside, it seems important to recognize this is true because fake news is addictive. I see that in myself, family members, friends and coworkers. No matter how it's politically slanted, fake news is harmful to productivity and rational thought.
Fake news is an effective thought virus that often leverages partisan politics, nationality, or religion in its spread. It works because those who believe or like it feel compelled to spread it, much as a cell infected with a biological virus is compelled to spread it.
Fake news is nothing new, its just a new version of yellow journalism and muckraking, but it seems unfortunately immune to deteriorating standards of journalistic and editorial control.
It also seems that the government has a justifiable interest in reducing fake news as many governments have in the past done. But those efforts now seem ineffective in the form fake news now takes.
My concern is solutions should not violate the First Amendment to the US constitution, which says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So how can a government of the people address the problem as it exists today?
It seems like some limits to the 1st Amendment have been recognized by the courts rather than congress. It seems like the first amendment is not absolute and specifically refers to congress. If we proceed with trial and error of a legislative controls, and judicial challenges, the damage continues to accumulate.
I have to wonder if a motivated executive branch might also somehow be a part of the solution in a way that doesn't threaten true political speech, nor impose standards of political correctness, but focus instead on such malicious viral behavior as the Post article discusses.
P.S. My background is in software, including artificial intelligence (AI.) I believe leaving the problem to companies like Facebook to address with AI is hopeless! Media companies will always have a financial motivation.