The suggestion that social media outlets need to police so-called “fake news” rings true on its face. Who wants to read news coverage known to be false? But what rates as “fake news” will be harder to define than we think.
And, putting algorithms in charge of policing those vast information flows claiming to be news will almost certainly not solve the problem. In a piece reflecting on artificial intelligence (AI) on the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey” writer Michael Benson tells us that “[d]emocracy depends on a shared consensual reality.”
Well, actually everything we do in groups, whether it’s democracy or going to a hockey game, depends on shared consensual reality. And, therein lies the problem. We are now in a fight not over opinions concerning the import of agreed upon facts, but over the consensus itself—whether scientific findings can be trusted, whether corporate-owned media can be believed, whether “objective” reporting is even possible, whether the history we were taught is indeed the “true” history of our country and our world.
Which consensus prevails will be crucial to every facet of our society. It is true that consensus views are constantly being challenged by events. To the extent that events can be fit into consensus views, the consensus can survive. In fact, the consensus can be tweaked when necessary. The idea that free trade is always good has been tweaked in the past to admit that it is not good for everyone and that those who lose their jobs need special assistance. The consensus survived and free trade agreements continued to flourish.
Now, the consensus is vanishing. Large parts of society do not believe that the current system serves them well. Wealth is being shifted up the income ladder as middle- and low-income families find their wages stagnant or declining.
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