The Big Lie: Information, Automation and Eco Disintegration
The big issues of our time are shrouded in confusion and misinformation - how do we deal with this?
When it comes to the big issues of our time it seems almost impossible to know what is truth and what is not. As a result we increasingly assume that almost nothing we read, watch or listen to is accurate. We have reached a point where we treat everything as though it is commentary or someone else’s perspective or even satire. That’s how we face the current reality of our times - ‘we have no idea who to believe anymore!
Who can blame us. The landmark free speech case Falwell versus Penthouse established that Guccione’s satire of an out of control Falwell as sex fiend was so absurd that it was obvious satire so allowable, is now overshadowed by Falwell Jr.’s real life pool boy sex scandal. When real life mimics our most absurd satires we’ve come full circle. Who knows what's real or not.
The causes are clear - so much of our news and information comes from social media. And social media serves up attention and money to anyone who can get more attention. Attention = Influence = Money. In the UK 41% of 18 - 24 year old’s say social media is now their main source of news, up from 18% in 2015 (43% across markets). Audiences pay increasing attention to celebrities and social media personalities rather than traditional news sites. Traditional news sites struggle to connect with younger millennial and generation Z readers. In fact they struggle to even be seen at all whatever short skirt news channels put on news readers.
According to a recent report from the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford the various shocks of the last few years, including the war in Ukraine and the Coronavirus pandemic, have accelerated structural shifts towards more digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environments, with further implications for the business models and formats of journalism.
Across various markets, only around a fifth of respondents (22%) now say they prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app – that’s down 10 percentage points since 2018. Younger groups everywhere are showing a weaker connection with news brands’ own websites and apps than previous cohorts – preferring to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators.
When it comes to news, audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. This contrasts sharply with Facebook and Twitter, where news media and journalists are still central to the conversation.
Much of the public is sceptical of the algorithms used to select what they see via search engines, social media, and other platforms. And despite hopes that the internet would widen the democratic debate it seems that fewer people are participating in online news than in the recent past. And let’s face it, AI is only going to exacerbate this. Will Joe Rogan in AI be better or worse than Joe Rogan today? Maybe that's a bad example. We have to look no further then Sports Illustrated who invented AI authors from whole cloth to write pieces for the magazine over the last year. They gave them photos and fake bios. Soon goodbye Gisele hello AI super model?
People use traditional media less and trust in news media continues to decline. Where traditional media is followed it tends to concentrate around fewer bigger brands. And digital subscriptions tend to flow to the biggest players. It’s not surprising we are a bit turned off by news and information. Who knows what’s accurate any longer. It feels like fake news is everywhere.
And fake news tends to coalesce around the loudest issues. Does anyone know what to believe about the biggest issues of our time - climate change, immigration (and they are linked - apparently!), automation and warfare? Some tell us that AI will destroy mankind and some that it is the best, most positive thing for humanity since, well, Barack Obama. Some tell us that Hamas is to blame for the innocent slaughter of people in Gaza, some that it is Israel and some even say it is the fault of the people themselves. Presumably because staying in harms way IRL is better than getting it on X/twitter.
Yet it seems that even X has realised that fake news might end up being the big fat cat that could soon spin and swallow them. As a result they’ve launched Community Notes which is trying to create better information by getting people on X to collaboratively add context to potentially misleading posts. Contributors can leave notes on any post and if enough contributors from different points of view rate that note as helpful, the note will be publicly shown on a post. It is currently only available in the US.
It’s an interesting way to crowdsource a neighbourhood watch programme against news criminals. Fighting those that pedal disinformation. Some question whether it will just unleash chain gangs of alternative fact bullies swarming to get their notes out on highly visible posts/tweets/X-clips???
A new startup, LettsNews, is taking it a step further by building a new kind of AI news agency which crowdsources news on a nifty journalist app so that anyone can gather news at source - professional journalists and citizen journalists alike. Their journalist app uses cloud tools and AI to help edit, curate, rate and rank the news direct to digital outlets. If it widens the source of news and in some way verifies and helps find new ways to monetise it then they might be onto something. TechRound seems to think so as they selected them as a top 20 AI startup to look out for in 2024. The Letts Journal has been selected as an early beta tester - so we’ll keep you in the scoop!
Politicians, media organisations and content creators are all piling on the band wagon now that AI seems to have opened up a smorgasbord of content abuse creating a resounding set of info activists and purists led by the disarming voice of Silicon Valley, Kara Swisher, seeking to bring good old fashioned food provenance to the content world. After all, if we care so much about where our meat and cheese is sourced and produced why should we not want to know the same about our news. Content is currently banging about in the wild west. No one really knows where anything comes from or who really made it. We have no supply chain data on streams of information. And fake, manipulative content surely affects our very own well being.
Another new platform from our mothership (sorry) called LettsCore is dedicated to dealing with this. It has decided to take a root and branch approach to the problem by building a whole new kind of content management system on a new massively distributed database that makes content itself intelligent, and by doing so it can imprint content atoms (i.e. a word or sentence, image clip, audio or video) with data about its origins, author and its use - stamped within it - so its always there. If they can persuade enough private and public sector organisations to adopt their grand system they may well be onto something. But the politicians are pushing hard for a solution like this.
There are a growing number of initiatives coming to the market and to our platforms to attempt to tackle the fake news and misinformation problem. Given that today pretty much every organisation is content rich and data driven they should take note. If not, the spiral of misinformation about the biggest issues of our time will continue to keep us in the dark - until one day darkness will be all that we see either at the hands of the latest robot, the climate, some nutty authoritarian or a handful of aliens that SpaceX brings back from Mars (assuming their spaceship can leave earth). We might have to take quality information, data and learning as seriously as we take cancer and mental health. After all, in the internet era content is king. It might be time to dethrone and democratise this one.
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