Over the last few days a number of my friends have been sharing a Bookface post about a bag of apples and a teacher who was trying to show her class how far the post would spread. Sound familiar, its the same thing you see week in, week out. Show the children how far the post will spread and from someone with no Bookface profile.
You see these in the hundreds, a nice looking young woman, little to no previous posts, do you want to be my friend, I'm looking for western friends, I lonely Russian girl. Then we have the maths question which just demonstrates how many people either failed maths at school or forgot it soon afterwards, you know the ones I mean, 7 - 4 x 6 + 3 = ? Those.
Then we had something new and wonderful that will tell you how many people view your Bookface profile, just give the app access to your Bookface page and friends list.
Tens of thousands of shares of these posts, some of them hundreds of thousands and no one cares that the profile behind them is either blank or blatantly fake, in fact when I posted on a number of friends pages that they were sharing the share these apples for the school kids post I was told it was real because one friend knew who posted it.
When I checked the profile the post had been shared 60,000 times, the profile had under 400 friends and then blanked when I checked it later. 60,000 shares. Of a post from someone who added one photo last summer and posted three times this year, all of which were to do with the apples for the children post.
Even if every single friend shared, what about the other 59,600 people?
What is my point you may be asking by now, other than my ranting about people not being paranoid enough.
Well, that is my point.
Fake news, fake posts, lies, deceptions. Social media, TV, cable and satellite, print media, made up stories and of course the new meme, Alternative Facts.
Yes of course the £350 million a week that the UK pays into the EU will instead be spent on the NHS after Brexit. Trust the leave campaigners because, well, just because. Jump up and down and get angry or share posts because they make you angry, go beat someone up in the street, because you saw some story that said they were doing something, somewhere, to someone.
With Trump in the White house, with the UK charging ahead with Brexit, Fake News has been almost constantly in the news. Media printing lies, politicians speaking lies, TV reporting lies, social media filled with fake news. Everywhere you look, people complaining about it, wanting it stopped, wanting it banned.
Problem is, you can't, ban it that is. Because it works too well.
Get the mob whipped up into a frenzy, manipulate those votes, spread a few half truths or lies or statistics and off you go, why would any politicians want to stop that. Most of them rely on it more and more these days. How many million people voted leave because they believed the fake news about Brexit put out by the three monkeys of the leave campaign?
Here are two numbers, these are mine and based on observation not scientific tests so pinch of salt and all that but the numbers are 30 and 12.
30 minutes and 12 hours.
Now both of these are probably too high, too slow, but they will do for this blog post. 30 minutes and 12 hours. So what do they mean.
30 minutes is the time you have to stop a post of fake news, 30 minutes is the time it takes (in my observations) to be seen and shared enough times that it becomes unstoppable because it has gone too far and will spread exponentially. One person sees it and shares it and there are two, two people see it and share it and there are four, then eight and sixteen and then tens of thousands. After 30 minutes you are playing catch up and that's always a losing battle if you're using stuff like facts to counter fake news that triggers deeply held beliefs.
12 hours is the window in which the fake news will do its worst, if you haven't countered it within 12 hours you never will because by then, in our fast turnover news world, it will have become an established fact. The biggest lie becomes truth in 12 hours these days, just a single day.
Don't believe me, watch the news, see stories breaking, big rumours, damaging leaks, news at nine (or ten), headline grabbing stuff. Then look for the same story 12 hours later. people won't be talking about rumours, they will be talking facts and so the fake news becomes true. Even later if or when it's proven to be truth, it doesn't matter because the media will have dropped it and won't want to report on the fact that their established truth of yesterday was wrong.
Did you catch the news about Corbyn was quitting and had given fellow Labour MPs a date when he would be gone. By the evening it was fact and all people were asking was the date, Corbyn would be gone, who was going to replace him. Then after the denials and the lack of any actual facts to support the story it's all but vanished, but the damage was done because Corbyn quitting became real over that 12 hours.
Ban fake news, block it, stop it. Fake news is harmful (it is), fake news changes elections (yes it does), fake news is bad.
OK, yep, it's all of those things, but ban it, how?
Remember that 30 minute window (or less), how much are you willing to pay to use Bookface each month so they can hire hundreds of staff and write millions of lines of code to fact check every single post within 30 minutes. Or how about all posts cannot be seen until they've been fact checked. Would you use Bookface as a pay per month service that censored your posts?
It's the same with the media, who exactly is going to fact check and censor the media, the government?
Do you seriously want the Tories enacting a media censorship and accuracy law which allows them to determine what the media can report? Or Labour when they next get into power?
We already have the most restrictive and dictatorial online monitoring laws of any western nation, do you really want censorship as well?
But, but, but you say. Fake news is bad, it must be stopped.
Yep, but you can't, throwing bans and censorship to solve a short term problem just leads to a long term nightmare. Think the nice boys and girls at GCHQ being able to monitor you online is bad, how about when they get to decide what you are allowed to post, or to read?
Thing is, fake news isn't the problem. Just like Trump isn't the problem, Glorious Leader May isn't the problem. They are symptoms, signs of a much wider problem, they aren't the cause, just a result of the real problem.
And that problem?
That would be people.
You and me.
More you than me to be honest but then people call me paranoid, and cynical.
Yep, the problem isn't fake news, the problem is people. The problem isn't lying politicians, the problem is people. People who believe. People who want to believe. People who don't think about what they are hearing or reading because it fits with what they want to believe. People who know politicians lie but vote for them and listen to them anyway. People who will share a Bookface post even though the posters profile is blank, people who happily give their entire friends list and profile details to any silly little AP that will tell them which superhero they are.
The problem is people.
Stopping fake news is impossible, can't be done, not in our digital world. The time windows are too small, the speed of sharing and spreading is too fast. Every possible solution is far worse than the problem because every possible solution to fake news leads to ALL news and ALL posts being monitored and censored. Any vestige of digital freedom, gone, because that's the only way to stop the fake news.
Perhaps that's what some people want, a world where you have to ask permission before posting anything, a world where you have to ask permission before saying anything. Because understand that the powers that be will happily censor you while ignoring those who spread fake news that benefits the powers that be.
Which media, which TV programs, which newspapers will be censored and which will continue to peddle lies, clue, the ones who support government agendas and who are owned by those rich government donors.
The solution isn't easy, not given the last few decades of damage, but it's the only possible solution that doesn't result in us living in 1984. The solution is the people. You and me, well again mostly you but all of us.
Fake news works because people believe it, because people want to believe it and most importantly, because people don't want to think about it, they just want to know 'The Truth' without having to work it out for themselves. Our society has raised an entire generation and more where education (both children and adults) has been about learning to pass a test or meet a standard rather than learning to learn.
Teachers who teach people 'How to think' rather than 'What to think' are all too often bucking the system and yet knowing 'How To Think' is critical when it comes to freedom of choice. I'm not talking about rocket science here, but rather the ability to make up your own mind on something after thinking about it. As opposed to reading the Daily Fail and taking your thinking off their front page or parroting the words of a politician without considering that those words make no sense.
That's the problem really, the very things that our leaders want in a society, being people educated just enough to slave for the corporations and do what they are told without asking questions is exactly what makes fake news and Bookface sharing posts work. People have been taught not to question, not to think for themselves, so when they are told something they accept it. Even when it is directly dangerous to themselves, if the right person says it or the right media reports it, job done.
Which is why Wales voted leave and has since been told that all the EU funds they get will not be made up by the government despite being promised exactly that during the Brexit campaign, bad luck Wales, when Brexit happens you are truly screwed. Maybe if people had stopped to think about it earlier, Oh well. Never mind.
We can't stop fake news, we can't stop people getting tens of thousands of idiots to share Bookface posts (which they can then blank the account and sell on to someone because it has tens of thousands of peoples share links or hundreds of thousands of profiles.
We can't stop them and retain any semblance of freedom.
Instead we need to get people to question, we need people to think for themselves rather than slavishly obey what they are told by newspapers, TV programs and politicians. You don't need to be as paranoid as I am, you just need to ask a few simple questions. How, Why. Who, When. Where, What. Don't blame those dirty immigrants for taking your job and driving down wages without asking why your ex employer is hiring people who can't speak English and who will work for next to nothing.
Don't take anything at face value, ask questions. Assume everything is fake and question it rather than repeating it as gospel.
We can't and indeed shouldn't, put in place the measures needed to block fake news and fake posts because that short term solution leads to far worse long term problems, instead we need to destroy the usefulness of fake news. After all if people aren't fooled by it then politicians will stop using it, because it no longer works.
Educate people, teach people to think for themselves and fake news will vanish on its own as people ignore it. Get people to think for themselves, get people to ask questions rather than jump in with some kneejerk response. Ask people to consider, check and then share or spread. Get people to, ask people to...
I'm wasting my breath here, aren't I?