At first blush, it may appear that here I am referring to the rather benign oceans of user-generated content forming the meat of today’s internet: the half-truths of tweets, the fix-ups of Photoshop, the embellishments of Facebook updates, our insincere thumbs-up and self-serving re-posts. But this isn’t the half of it. Bots post as tweeters. Corporations pose as consumers. Outright lies might be fact-checked and yet still saturate and linger in virtual space. Propaganda stands in for journalism and YouTube videos become presidential addresses surrounded by ads and suggestions to watch SNL and “Racist White Woman Trump Rant in Chicago Store 11/23/16.”
These very visible manifestations direct our attention to something else we know to be true that remains often harder to see: the internet’s hidden corporate architecture and governmental backbone. The foundational lies of today’s internet—that it is a public good rather than a monetized commodity; that it promotes or is even interested in freedom of expression and civil discourse; that our actions there are activism rather than consumerism—are papered over by facetious platitudes. The fake news, in other words, is not new, and it should not come as a surprise. In reality, the internet is primarily a place of censorship, capitalism, surveillance, distraction, and entertainment: the perfect incubator for fake news and all that might result from it.
See Some Infrastructure:
- Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, co-edited by Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (University of Illinois Press, 2015)
- #100hardtruths-#fakenews: a primer on digital media literacy