Fake news and post-truth

Albany Wiseman, Berwick Market, 1974


Reflections on the digital stars of the infodemic that plagues us

Production and propagation of fraudulent information are practices as old as humanity itself. What is new is the scale, speed, personalization and the obscure paths trodden today by these disinformation processes, made possible by the new digital communication technologies.

It is important to highlight the specificity of the phenomenon. The low cost of operations compared to traditional media; its massive, personalized reach; and the difficult regulation of these actions, in technical and legal terms, allowed them to spread throughout almost the entire world. Thus, new forms of disinformation become an influential element of the emerging ideological superstructure of the infrastructure of digital networks. This infrastructure, in turn, is a precious resource, product and property of the main fraction of today's big capital (along with finance, arms, pharmaceuticals and energy).

The boundaries between legality and illegality become blurred in this environment, to the point that the UK parliament accused Mark Zuckerberg of being a digital gangster, more or less a year before one of the architects of Trump's election, Steve Bannon, was arrested for fraud commercials involving the racist wall separating the US and Mexico.

The publicity around the impact of actions involving the Cambridge Analytica No. Brexit and in the election of Trump probably contributed to the popularization of the terms fake news and post-truth.

Fake News means false information, disguised as sensationalist journalistic news, intentionally produced and propagated, mainly on digital networks, to favor interest groups. They have been predominantly employed by the so-called new extreme right, with very serious effects. The term is also used by these same elements to disqualify any serious news that goes against their positions, generating more confusion. Already post-truth indicates the greater influence of beliefs than evidence in the formation of public opinion. That in itself is nothing new, other than the speed, scale, and personalized targeting of the information that feeds it.

Fake News and post-truth are the stars of a larger set of contemporary disinformation phenomena, whose corollary is antiscience, climate denialism, flat earthism, anti-vaccination movements, all linked to the growth of the extreme right in the world, which surfs very well in this tsunami toxic of informational pollution produced largely by itself. In addition to the terrible damage to public health and the environment, this infodemic threatens democracy itself, which depends on an informed public opinion. For these reasons, it needs to be very well studied and fought.

Faced with an unprecedented crisis in the credibility of basic modern cognitive authorities such as the University and the Press, and even the legislative and judiciary powers – resulting from their common distancing from the public interest, concomitant with their increasingly explicit subordination to corporate interests –, myriads of populist pseudo cognitive authorities of the most reactionary type emerge in the media and digital networks, in the executive branches and, increasingly, in the legislature and the judiciary itself.

They are generally charismatic characters, endowed with a sanguine temperament, who present easy solutions to complex problems, resorting to fear, despair, prejudice and ignorance, averse to a serious intellectual commitment to rational debate, based on demonstrable and falsifiable arguments and evidence. , beyond tacit knowledge, customs or beliefs. This commitment, which could simply be called scientific spirit, has been undermined in our time by several characters, who act in a histrionic and ostentatious way, in search of their own interests and at the same time as puppets of more robust interest groups, in Brazil and in the world, in the manner of classic Nazism.

We hypothesize here that these new and often bizarre forms of anti-intellectualism are the result of the inability of contemporary ruling blocs to produce their own qualified organic intellectuals and corresponding rational self-legitimation discourses, of the classical liberal type, in economics, society and society. education, in public health, in the face of the growing and uncontrollable spiral (within the rules of the game) of ongoing socio-environmental calamities. So when fake news and post-truth become prominent in dominant culture and power discourses, we are faced with the doubly stupid, at once ridiculous and brutal result of the inability of the ruling fractions of the bourgeoisie to establish the moral direction of societies they can no longer manage in a minimally functional way for the majority of the population, even in rich countries.

If usually artistic expressions and contesting politics, together with the critical aspects of the social sciences, were the main victims of neglect or frontal attacks by the bourgeois State in times of crisis, now the attacks are even turned against the natural sciences (history repeating itself as a simultaneous tragedy and farce, as in Galileo's time, in the face of the final crisis of feudal society and its outdated cosmovision)! Capital cannot do without the natural sciences, whose knowledge applied to production was and is fundamental for its own growth, but at the same time it needs to protect them, from environmental issues to the corona-virus pandemic.

After all, even among non-denialists, vaccine production is, after all, a business and the economy cannot stop, in any sector, even if the dominant economic model destroys the planet and exploits or excludes most people, especially at times pandemic. However, no significant sociometabolic alternative (to use a term dear to Mészáros) has even been seriously considered in recent public debate (except from China).

Now, at the limit, social interaction itself is impossible without some confidence in shared parameters of reality. If you cannot create them in rational terms and at the same time ensure the safeguarding of status quo, we have the proliferation of delusional parameters, leading to bizarre and ultra-violent forms of anomie.

The current complex of media corporations, together with the technological giants of search, surveillance and big data, can no longer be thought of only in superstructural terms, but as interweaving an economic base and an ideological superstructure, in a dynamic of mutual support. From commercial advertising articulated to the ideological propaganda of the classic cultural industry, which remain in action, to the new billionaire business models, based on data monitoring and the production of metadata linked to predictive behavior, this complex plays a role that is far from being insignificant. in contemporary culture and politics, although it is not immune to contradictions.

Two of the most explosive are the closely related ones between freedom of expression and commitment to the truth, and between corporate interest and public interest. It is from the theoretical and practical resolution of these contradictions, which in turn requires a courageous critical and historical reflection of the very terms of the debate, that a new, healthier infocommunication ecosystem will emerge, or at least not so alienated, superficial, perverse, lying, sensationalist, cynical, skeptical, dogmatic and hallucinatory.

The dice are rolled on Russian roulette in the global financial casino, where big players always take the advantage. It remains to invent new uses of big Data, committed to the common good.

* Marco Schneider He is a professor at the Department of Communication at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The dialectic of taste: information, music and politics (Circuit).

Expanded version of article published in 2a edition of Network Society Magazine.


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