Fake News is Old News

I got a good chuckle this week from an article by a political website that was bemoaning the recent spate of "fake news" especially on places like Facebook. What amused me was that they were just echoing the same laments that I've been reiterating for the past two decades. 

It's strange, isn't it? For decades, fundy atheists and others have been posting "fake news" about Christianity: the Zeitgeist movie; false information about alleged Bible contradictions (how many times will that "the Bible says the bat is a bird" crap have to be addressed before it dies a painful death?); absolutely idiotic and totally made up claims about alleged pagan saviors ("Mithra was crucified and rose from the dead, just like Jesus!"); garbage from freethinkers of the 18th-19th century like Paine and Ingersoll (Paine's favorite fake news story about Christianity: The Council of Nicaea decided the canon!); and on and on and on.

However,  these political types never batted an eye about any of this. Many of them even encouraged it under the banner of "free speech" and freeing people from the shackles of religion. Now that the shoe is on their foot, they're bawling likes pigs whose snouts have been burned by hot swill. 

Now they're complaining about it. Now they're worried because although they've put pros like Snopes.com on the job debunking fake news on Facebook, the sad fact is that fake news spreads too fast to be debunked before millions believe it. By then it's too late, and the suckers for fake news assume that Snopes.com is part of the deep state conspiracy.

The conundrum is partly their own. It reminded me of a professor I had who was a sweet elderly woman who was committed to principles of free speech, and who claimed to abhor censorship. I posed a question to her: How do we handle child porn, then? I could see her struggle with the issue, but she finally came back with her solution, which wasn't much of a solution: Any child porn that had already been made should be allowed to circulate freely, but the law should prevent any more from being made. Nothing like a moral compass that has "South" on all four corners. 

I'm all for debunking fake news. I've done my own share of it at various times. But it's a problem that everyone should have anticipated in the early 90s, long before the Internet became a staple in every person's home in the West. It's also something that should have been addressed when religion (of any kind) became the target of so many ignorant people. I'm not going to suggest an exact mechanism, but it would have probably involved a lot more proactive approach by church leaders to squelch falsehoods. (Especially leaders like Josh McDowell, who aren't so much apologists as they are evangelists who occasionally use apologetics-scented body wash.)

Maybe by now, any counters would be too little, too late. The mesmerizing misinformation maelstrom that has become the Internet has overtaken and corrupted too many people's epistemology for there to be any hope of a major reversal of fortunes over the fake news industry. If so -- those now suffering the consequences on the political front may have no one to blame but the person in the mirror.

Comments

Joe Hinman said…
I miss the good plod days when Presidents created the news so it was real news but still fake, like LBJ and Tonkin gulf

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