Let’s Fix Fake News with an App!

Much of the narrative surrounding the plague of fake news in society is that this is a problem that can be solved by technology. Technological Determinism is a phrase that I use, perhaps, a bit too much. At times, I feel only a step away from becoming the grumpy old man in black shoes and white socks yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

For as many problems solved by a new technology countless others appear. Too often technology is favorably viewed as an answer (even to the problems created by the presence of technology). Too much screen time? Make your phone grey-scale, or better yet, use this app to remind you to put your phone away: Technological solutions to problems solved by simply turning the device off.

So, Fake News.

First, it is important to start with a definition. Fake news is, at least in the discussion here, a partially or completely fabricated recounting of events for the purposes to either misinform or unduly influence. Something along the lines of “Pope Francis endorses Trump for President.”

There is a growing chorus calling for a solution to this problem. Within the library world, many have created Libguides (online electronic guides librarians create for the purpose of teaching) to fight fake news. Still other solutions come in the form of Apps or even more sophisticated algorithms. Blah Blah Blah.

The rise of fake news was/is due to people’s attention spans, or lack thereof. Social Media newsfeeds reinforce individual comfort zones, making it very difficult for consumers of this media to realize what is going on. The solution to fake news is not an app. Nor is it a new algorithm, big data, machine learning, or any other asinine technological buzzword, no matter what complex network researchers tell you.

The solution is to read, both purposely and carefully, but this is not what people want to hear. “There’s an app for that.” Or, “this new website will tell if you the news you are getting is….” All of this is an exercise in futility. Just as you cannot legislate morality, neither can you create a technological solution as an answer to the morality of finding information.

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About Nicholas Wyant

I am the Head of Social Sciences at Indiana University Wells Library. I am responsible for Political Science, Criminal Justice & Social Work. In addition to my subject areas I also study student's interaction with technology. Recently, I have altered my methods from a sociological perspective to an anthropological one.
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