Fake news and village gossip – 2017 style

These days I am left thinking that the flood of ‘fake news’, baseless scare-mongering and other rubbish pouring over and around us from Facebook – and the internet in general – has reduced news to village gossip.


Back in the old days – by which I mean less than ten years ago – journalism involved ‘fact checking’. Even freelance articles were peer-reviewed, if they were high enough profile.

That still happens where magazines have the budget to do it, and there’s still some solidly researched news out there. But around all that there’s the gossip. It’s unverified, often absurdly over-stated or obviously fabricated. Usually it’s polemic. But people believe it.

Part of the problem is in the personal ‘validation bubbles’ produced by the way social media – especially Facebook – works. Fake news is tailor made for such ‘bubbles’ – and its rise, to a large extent, is very much a product of the way not just Facebook, but all social media, frames interactions.

What’s missing, it seems to me, is a sense of cynicism. Not the ‘doubt everything’ cynicism that leads with dizzying speed to conspiracy thinking. I’m talking about reasonable, common-or-garden cynicism that causes us to ask reasonable questions – to be curious, to look beyond the surface; and to look for contexts.

That sort of thinking isn’t usually taught at schools (it certainly wasn’t in New Zealand, when I was at school) – but it’s a kind of thinking that is becoming more and more essential as social media, particularly, exposes us to the wider world in ways earlier generations couldn’t dream of.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

6 thoughts on “Fake news and village gossip – 2017 style

  1. I will completely agree. And add that as people have become more connected, it is exposing how the greater mass of poorly literate, ill-informed and sometimes simply uneducated sections of the population actually think and choose to think. Given access to even base level technology the possiblity to raise humankinds intelligence is abandoned with the opportunity to learn actual facts, develop ideas and obtain accurate information swamped instead by peoples need to promote the ‘self image and want’ or endless ‘cat videos’.

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  2. Critical thinking comes to some few naturally, and for the rest of us it seems to be a process requiring deliberate and willful mental discipline. Coaching helps. Seeing the power of the method demonstrated helps. It probably requires other things as well.

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