Wednesday, December 14, 2016

More on “fake news”

1. The way that social media platforms homogenize professional and user-generated content and present it together in a seamless blend puts the veneer of “credibility” or “legitimacy” on everything that appears. This veneer is not necessarily mistaken for real wood, but it is enough to activate the fantasy of its reality. It lets us enter the affectively intense as-if zone, where hopes and fears feel closer to realization. Users are willingly taken in by this veneer; they are not tricked by it. The veneer is part of social media’s core appeal: it creates a space where we can consume our ideology as something tangible, seemingly directly effectual — what I believe really does dictate and conform to what I see! My beliefs really do matter! 

2. This demand to consume ideology is not the same as a desire to be informed. It is closer to the opposite. Critiquing social media as if their users wanted “true information” and then the sites failed them seems to overlook the idea that people often want misinformation, and they also want misinformation that they can believe for a comforting moment, if not longer. The demand for misinformation is independent from the demand for information. Being misinformed is not always the result of trying to get informed and then being betrayed by “trusted sources.” Users choosing to get their news from Facebook may not be seeking to be informed at all; they are instead playing the game of constructing stories, selves, alternatives — they may not want the truth so much as approval, attention, a sense of belonging. Those are social truths of their own created and enacted in social media (and everywhere else that is social space) and they are not governed necessarily by being built from accurate information.

3. Facebook will have a hard time being hyper-subjective (tailoring content to the revealed preferences of its users) and hyper-objective (filtering its entire eco-system for “accuracy,” as though accuracy doesn’t require a standpoint). It either announces its own conditions for accuracy and imposes them on users, or it caters to the entertainment needs of users for fantasy criteria for “accuracy” and flights of fancy where the world is more like they want than how it is. It would be better for the world if Facebook didn’t pretend it was capable of doing both.

4. Facebook’s announced plans to ban fake news doesn’t really address the issue. It is not that the news itself is “fake” as in inaccurate; the problem is that people are consuming it not in order to become informed but to experience a form of sociality that has little to do with “accuracy.” On Facebook, something feels more “accurate” when it gets a lot of response. On an engagement-based platform sustained by circulation of information, the viral is the real and the true. What is viral is effectual within that platform’s feedback loops.

5. Since people use Facebook not to be informed but to belong or be connected or to get attention or to be entertained, any information on Facebook will be used to those ends and not the ends of constructing a more accurate understanding of the world. (It is not like Google, which people don’t use to perform or express themselves but to get information they need. Google has economic incentives to be accurate.) The presence of outrageously fake news on Facebook may even remind users of this, that what they are seeing is an entertainment-oriented reflection of the world they would like to see and believe in, not the world as it is.  

6. Facebook is for engagement, not truth. It provides us a means by which we can inhabit and operate pleasurable fictions. The narratives facilitated within Facebook should be understood as fictional. We participate in and consume our lives vicariously through Facebook.

(via thenewinquiry)

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