By Dave Avran
IN 2004, a Harvard student called Mark Zuckerberg got so drunk; he tripped over a cable in his dorm room, smashed through his ground floor window and ended up face down in the wet grass.
The girl he admired came round the corner with her friends, and all three had to step over the fallen future billionaire before he puked on himself.
Zuckerberg said it was the most humiliating moment of his life.
None of the above is true. Does it really matter? Today we are fully ensconced in the post-truth world.
Misinformation is very much in season. Disclosures since the US presidential election about massively disseminated misinformation, some of it willfully manipulative, have come fast and furious.
In fact, we will soon be adding the terms “post-truth” and “alternative facts” to our dictionaries.
Both these terms return us to a world where propaganda prevails for the purposes of misdirection.
Zuckerberg said: “Personally, I think the idea that fake news – of which it’s a small amount of content – influenced the US election is a pretty crazy idea.”
The influence of false content on Facebook cannot be regarded as “small” when it garners millions of shares.
The less truthful a post is, the more it is shared.
In Zuckerberg’s follow-up statement, he shoots himself in the foot by saying it was “extremely unlikely” fake news on Facebook had an impact on the election, but then he boasts that Facebook was responsible for 2 million Americans registering to vote.
So where do these stories originate from?
Well, some are created by teenagers looking for cash just catering to demand.
Many more come from people we now term “cybertroopers”, who cook up stories on social media, which are then co-opted by both genuine and politically inclined online sites and are then shared back again on social media.
Some of these stories are frankly ridiculous and cater to an increasing number of conspiracy theorists.
If you’re still skeptical at this stage, stop and think about how Trump’s social media strategy took him all the way to the White House.
In fact, his team worried that Trump’s in-your-face rhetoric was too strong, and might jeopardize his chances.
So they came up with a gameplan. What they did is the opposite of trolling. An often misused term, trolling refers to winding people up to solicit an angry response. Trump’s team had an end game to mine big data to snare the silent general electorate.
Unfortunately, tech companies find it hard to combat the online rise of fake news and social media vitriol.
In fact, Twitter’s abuse problem might have been the reason nobody wanted to buy it.
Facebook, meanwhile, continues to maintain that it is not a media company despite the fact that 66% of Facebook users get news from their site.
If that isn’t a media company, then what is?
The problem here is that if one says that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter need to make editorial judgments, then people will shout censorship.
The fact is Facebook already censors. For example Instagram (owned by Facebook) removes any photograph with a female nipple in it. Twitter removes Isis propaganda videos.
Actually all journalism boils down to a decision of what to publish and not to publish, what stories are worth pursuing and which aren’t, so you can call it censorship anyway.
For Malaysians, getting better at social media and online activism is imperative at a time when trust in the mainstream media is low. To rebuild that trust is partly down to the media itself: by diversifying for a start, becoming more reflective of our cultural and demographic makeups.
Sensible and moderate citizens should also fight back online.
Don’t just read sources that align entirely with your worldview, but equally don’t indulge bullshit. Question sources. Read closely.
That picture that clearly shows a handsome British carpenter wanting to be friends with you on Facebook is identity theft.
That cheap Mercedes Benz on Mudah.com is a cloned car. That naked picture of a politician with a young girl is photoshopped.
But then a retweet is a retweet is a retweet.
Aggregated from various sources on the internet.