Fake News & True Eye Openers (#ELGL18 Preview!)

Posted on May 11, 2018

Right Now with Nick Smith (Linkedin/Twitter)
What I’m reading:  The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication by Alberto Cairo
What I’m watching: I recently stumbled upon Doug DeMuro and his car review channel on YouTube and I’m not a car guy at all, but the joy he conveys in doing what he loves is just too infectious.
What I’m listening to: as I explore the more depressing narratives in storytelling, it seems only fitting to shout out greatest storytelling band of our time, The Hold Steady, and their album Stay Positive

Y’all, #ELGL18 is nearly upon us, and I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED.
The only thing is that, in preparing for my session on fake news (“Text, Lies, and Videotape” is Friday morning! Be there!) I have unearthed a couple of problems with information sharing in general. See, as a social media advocate, you probably think that I think that everything’s fine. But I know it’s not, and it’s getting worse. We’ve talked about trust a lot in my Morning Buzzes, and the reason for that is that as the tools for disseminating information become more democratized, it’s more and more evident that people as a concept are flawed.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the two years (and who could blame you?) and don’t know about the rapid rise of fake news, take a look at this chart:

Honestly, people are really easy to lie to! Especially when there are numbers involved. Starting in high school, you hear the stereotypical refrain of “are we really going to need to know algebra?” Sure it’s partially a product of disaffected adolescence, but it also betrays a much larger problem: that a lot of people are pretty much done with the critical thinking part of numbers after about 15 years of life.
Biologists have proven we’re not the only species that lies to each other, either, but we’re certainly the best at it — and we’re certainly the only species that has invented tools to automate the capability to do so — we have computers that will lie to other people for us when we’re not around to do it.
There are lot of different types of lies, too. Some are disinformation, where it’s on purpose, but some are just misinformation, where it’s just accidental or confusion, and some are just propaganda that don’t necessarily lie outright, but may present the facts in a biased or easily-misconstrued way. It’s a fraught landscape out there.

The other problem is that social media — where the vast majority of ideas are spread nowadays — is not only an immature technology, but an immature idea. If you consider blogs social media, the whole thing is about 21 years old. And it’s a really popular 21 year old! Think about the dumb stuff you did when you were 21.
(Actually, don’t, it’s Friday, and I don’t want to send you into a spiral of anxiety right before the weekend.) But consider this:
Karl Benz invented the automobile in 1885. The airbag wasn’t invented until 1951, about 70 years later. It wasn’t implemented until 1971. It wasn’t required until 1999.
Now, in 2018, if you get into a car without airbags, you’re like … “I am going to die.”

If you extrapolate that timeline to social media, even at today’s timeline of exponential improvements we’re still a long way from the implementation of privatized tools and government regulations that can save us from ourselves. And in the meantime, it’s only going to get worse! If you haven’t heard of the concept of “DeepFakes,” democratized machine learning is already capable of producing scarily realistic videos that can give people the impression that someone has said something that they didn’t.

“So what are we to do in the meantime, Nick?”
Dear reader, I am so glad you asked. Join me for breakfast next Friday at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden and we’ll talk more about fake news, rumor control, and what you can do online and offline to make your life better.
If you can’t be there, we’ll miss you, but we’ll revisit this in greater detail in my next #MorningBuzz.
Or … will we?

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