I became a journalist when I discovered, as a teenager that news media coverage was dictated by not facts, but paid spin delivered by public relations firms.
And that it wasn’t a one-off, but a part of the machine.
I realized how naive I was, and that was the day I learned how to question the information I received.
It wasn’t just the first Gulf War that had PR firms spewing paid war propaganda.
I eventually learned that it was all out in the open.
But not all of it is out in the open, for example. There were many ways to pay to manipulate coverage.
Not by some super-secret organizations, but by image consultants, focus groups, crisis management teams, and their ilk.
So I decided to become a journalist to see how someone can find ways to present something other than reality and truth to a public through the news media.
It was absolutely easy as pie.
Because there aren’t laws or regulations stopping it.
And most news organizations didn’t exactly forbid it, either.
When I was in j-school, we had a database of news standards from various media outlets we could read.
And I read every single one.
From beginning to end.
While some media outlets forbade accepting gifts and graft from sources or firms, the actual use of PR in lieu of primary research wasn’t explicitly prohibited.
Nor did any outlet have a mechanism to deal with it.
That was not a minor vulnerability. It meant anyone with any money or savvy could hire someone to manipulate the message.
They could be trained to dress and talk differently than what their natural truth was. They were trained how to bridge and dodge, or present misinformation convincingly.
Firms employed former news producers, making their effectiveness complete.
But everyday, people were reading the news and just assuming what they consumed was fact, and not spin, or propaganda.
When social media took over, the problem became worse.
Because firms no longer required the journalist middleman to disseminate information.
They could just do it themselves directly, and light up Twitter and Facebook with whatever they wanted because people would not question where the information came from, who paid for it, or why.
And this medium is filled with inaccurate information.
Let me give one minor example.
That’s a famous quote…except there is no actual proof Gandhi ever said that or that this exchange ever took place.
It is a good, pithy quote, but where it truly came from, well, we actually have no clue.
But we can say with absolute certainty that Alexandra Kitty wrote, Demanding information literacy for the Internet would be a very good idea.
So the Internet has a bigger problem than mainstream journalism ever did.
People assume their opinion is fact and any meme poster saying something they believe is absolute truth, even if it is absolute rubbish.
If lies are exposed one time too many, this medium will have the same credibility problem as their predecessors.
Democrats cried Russia during the 2016 election, which is rich.
Because this medium is completely vulnerable to any sort of misinformation from any savvy group or individual.
It has become a Machiavellian paradise.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google are absolutely helpless to stop it.
They never took propaganda into consideration.
And there was no excuse for it.
We live in an age where we have credible academic studies, for instance, that show that misinformation has serious consequences. Our beliefs and action alter, and change for the worse.
And yet these organizations did not consider the importance of having mechanisms to verify information.
Algorithms will not cut it. AI will not cut it. Both those filters can be gamed with ease to both reject truth and accept lies.
These sites were not created by people who understood what information verification entailed or why it is critical to know how to do it. They appealed to vanity and laziness, nothing more.
Allowing people access to information is essential. Allowing people to contribute facts and logic is also essential.
But it is like giving everyone keys to a car, regardless if they know how to drive or not.
Or ignoring the fact that there a people who want to use that vehicle to run down as many people as they can.
The Internet is folksy logic gone out of control.
And while there are truths here, but when lies are given the same weight, the product becomes useless.
And that’s where 2018 brings us: a propagandist’s heaven with no method to prevent misinformation from contaminating our beliefs. It already took down the once mighty profession of journalism, and it is real reason to worry. All it takes is one Cry Wolf campaign to make the Twitter-ragers look like fools, and the seed of permanent damage will be planted.