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Who's responsible for stomping out fake news?

Hundreds of years ago, when we first started organising ourselves into cities, the primary source of information for everyone concerned was obtained from visits to the temples and churches and markets.

One would go to the local temple or spoke to people at the market and got to know if their king's army was winning the war in the next province, how the king's family was doing, whether there were opportunities to work in the king's palace and if the king was good and just or not.

The king ensured that the temples and churches and the people in the markets spoke favourably of him by making large donations to the temples and organising carnivals and fairs and games that favoured the vendors at markets.

As we advanced technologically and grew in size in terms of the population of cities, we formed governments and private enterprises and invented books and television and radio, whose manufacturing and distribution was sometimes privately held.

Now, the new form of gathering information was through books and newspapers, television and radio. The government and other concerned people and companies paid large donations (by buying ads) to the owners of these platforms, thus ensuring they were covered favourably.

Today, we have similar consumption channels, but the creation and curation is not centralised. Anyone can post information on the Internet for everyone else to consume. This makes it harder for governments and companies and influence content creators to cover them favourably.

Hundreds of years ago, we probably didn't get much fake news because the priests and market vendors that spread the news would lose credibility among their fellow citizens if people found out that they were lying, which could lead to loss of jobs and loss of livelihood for them. But, at the same time, people went to temples and markets not just for the news, but for many other things like buying sheep and praying to god. If there weren't that many alternatives for these other things, people would still go and consume the fake news and lies because they had no choice.

In the age of televisions and radios and newspapers, we probably didn't get much fake news because the owners and publishers would lose credibility and lose viewership and hence revenues if people found out that they were lying. But, at the same time, people didn't just consume news on the mass media, they also spent a lot of time consuming entertainment. And people would continue to do so even if they found out that these media were lying.

And today, it happens with Google and Facebook. People will still flock to these sites for connection and entertainment even if they find out that they are being peddled fake news.

Because, at the end of the day, a lot of people don't really care all that much whether the news they hear is true facts or fake. They believe what they consume.

There are two filters to fake news.

One is at the hand of the publisher of the news, who can choose to be objective and report news with an intention to inform and spread the truth and not to gain power for themselves or create chaos. This has traditionally worked well whenever there has been a single neck to choke, like that of a temple priest or a big newspaper. As they would have the fear of retribution in terms of lost revenues or lost jobs or lost influence.

The second is at the hand of the consumer, who can dig deeper, discern fact from opinion, ask curious questions and arrive at their own conclusions. This has traditionally not worked so well.

When both filters are active, it is the ideal scenario and all is well. When the publisher's filter is on and the consumer's filter is off, it is still good enough. While consuming people can't tell truth from fiction on their own, a publisher choosing only the truth still results in a rightly informed society.

When the publisher's filter is off and the consumer's filter is on, there is widespread ignorance in society and power concentrates at the hands of the publishers. Empirically, this has happened when scientists questioned the geo-centricity or the fact that Earth wasn't flat or the existence of God and afterlife. And this has resulted in brutality against the consumers that did have the filter on, ensuring that many stray away from having the filter on and just believe what comes their way. While today the consequence isn't direct brutality, it is still indirect brutality through ineffective (or downright harmful) laws and policies.

When the publisher's filter is off as well as the consumer's filter is off, there is just owners and slaves. The consumer is slaving away her mind instead of her body in such a scenario.

We have pretty much always been in the same state when it comes to the consumer's filter, all through these years. Many people don't have the filter on while some do.

But what has changed in the recent years is that the publisher's filter has come off. Because the publisher can now hide behind a called distributor (Google, Facebook) and never reveal themselves to get in front of their consumers. This puts a lot of upside on peddling fake news with virtually no downside.

For this reason, I'm in support of governments coercing Google and Facebook into taking more responsibility and becoming that one neck to choke. 

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