Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Incredibly Credulous

We're being told--by the purveyors of news--that we're imperiled by "Fake News."  Fake News is, it appears, something which purports to be actual news, but is not.  It seems it lurks everywhere, but tends to appear and be reproduced especially on Facebook.

I'm not certain whether I've ever encountered Fake News.  I tend to be amused by satirical news sites like The Onion and the Onion-like English language sites I find on the Web.  Those sites publish what can clearly be called news which is fake, but it must be the case that they don't publish Fake News, because if they did it's difficult to conceive how it poses a threat to our well-being.  The news they publish is plainly fake and fake in a way which amuses or at least provokes thought of a sort (generally in the nature of ridicule) regarding their subject matter.  Presumably, someone would have to be unusually credulous in order to believe that the news stories published on such sites are accurate or true.

Apparently, Fake News appears most on Facebook or similar social media, or appears in unsolicited emails.  I personally find it hard to understand why anyone would believe a purported news story appearing in such emails or popping up on Facebook, but it seems that many do.  That's something I find far more disturbing than Fake News itself.

For some time, those who have believed whatever it is they read in the paper or see on TV have been considered na├»ve, or far too trusting, or thoughtless.  So, it can be said that we've been aware of the fact that media can be misleading for many years.  We've also been aware of the fact that we can be manipulated by media as well.

One would think that this would make us cautious regarding what shows up on our tablets, PCs, laptops and smart phones.  However, if the news about Fake News is accurate, that's not the case.  We're seemingly more easily duped and less likely to question now than we have been in the past.

Clearly, our technology is such that our access to information of all kinds is much greater and easier than it was in the past. So is our ability to communicate and, more pertinently, the ability of others to communicate with us. Or, perhaps I should say, to communicate to us--to send us writings, pictures, videos, audios, regardless of whether they were sought. Unless we take precautions.

I'm hardly savvy about such things, but assume that in certain if not most cases its possible to block efforts to bombard us with Fake News and otherwise intrude on us electronically. I read that Facebook is taking steps to reduce Fake News, but assume we users can do so as well. No doubt some of us do.

But some of us don't and some of us apparently belong to groups or frequent sites which one way or another provide others with access to us. Assuming this is the case, why do some of us pay attention to Fake News and, evidently, believe it? Have we abandoned verification, or do we now lack the desire to verify? Do we determine what the source of Fake News may be or merely read it, listen to or see it and automatically accept its veracity? Do we unthinkingly pass it along, if we like it? If would seem a relatively simple thing to check the bona fides of Fake News. Is it nonetheless the case that we don't bother to or think doing so is unnecessary? Why must we be protected from it by others?

It's very human to accept as true what we hear from others if it is consistent with what we think is the case. It's good for our desires and prejudices, our thoughts and feelings, to be confirmed. Accept this human weakness as a source of the tendency to believe Fake News. What's concerning is the unquestioning acceptance of information, the suspension of thought which would seem to be a prerequisite of belief in Fake News if such belief is indeed widespread. It could be that our technology is now such as to render us particularly susceptible to manipulation because our receipt of information is encouraged by it and facilitated by it. But the acceptance of Fake News requires something more, something from us and not others. It would seem to me to require that we stop thinking.

Is that a function of technology as well? The speed of communication and our ability to respond to communications is such that we tend to act immediately and without thought to what is sent to us. At the same time, there are limitations on our ability to respond to communications or to send communications which are extensive. If we can only send a certain number of words at one time, we can only express a limited amount of information. The less we can express, the less we think. The less we analyze. The more we merely react and in fact emote. It's an invitation to stupidity and crassness, as we have seen and will see more and more as the Twitter-President looms and comes closer and closer, a noisy orange-tinged storm on the horizon.

That seems to be the way of it. But it's within our control whether we rely on and have recourse only to instant, limited communication and information. We have only ourselves to blame for Fake News and for what we do with/about it.

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