DearSir, Irefer to your article ‘How Technology Disrupted the Truth’ dated12 Jul 2016. Inthis article, Katherine Vimer makes some striking points about howdigital culture has profoundlyshifted our understanding of events, aswell as how it has resulted ina rise inthe publishing of intentionallymisleading news on theInternet. Katherinetalks about how theInternet-era media isconsciously sidesteppingor ignoringunwelcome facts and contradictions in their ever more desperate,fragmented chase for eyeballs. This is extremely problematic, as itmeans that usersare less likely to be exposed to information that broadenstheirworldview orallows them to learn something new.
Instead, users are presentedwith a stream of information that, unbeknownstto most users, has beenprocessed by special algorithmsin order toreinforce their pre-existing beliefs.Shealso goes on to explainhow the digital revolution hasled to a rise in the publishingof false, misleading, ordeliberately outrageous stories which spreadlike wildfire across thevarioussocial media platforms. Thereason why these stories spread so quickly, is because theyare assumed to be true by most people andthus continued to be shared onthe social media network,resultingin a vicious cycle wherethe same linkscontinue to be shared over and over again. WhatKatherine said really resonates with me. Ifind this extremely troubling as this can be a serious issue,especiallyduring emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time andpeople do not have the time nor patience to carefully check eachsource, making it hard for people to distinguish what is fake fromreal.
Forexample, during the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, rumorsquickly spread on social media that the Louvre and Pompidou Centrehad been hit, and that François Hollande had suffered a stroke. Intheir panic,people started blindlyforwardingthe message to all their loved ones without checking the source, thusresulting in the fake news becoming extremely widespread. Singaporeisn’t free of fake news, either. Sometime in March 2017, wordspread like wildfire via WhatsApp that someone was fined $200 forleaving used tissue behind at a public eating place. Incredulous asit may sound, many people believed it enough to pass on the messageto friends and family – and it became such a serious problem thatthe National Environment Agency (NEA) had to come forward with anofficial statement to debunk the hoax on March 30. Also,in 2015, several foreign news outlets, including American newsnetwork CNN and Chinese broadcaster CCTV, wrongly reported thatfounding Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew – who was then inintensive care – had passed on, as the reporters had based thearticle on an announcement made by a fake government website.
Lateron, the police found out that the website was created by a teenager,who had claimed that he only wanted to demonstrate how easy it wasfor a hoax to be perpetuated. Theseexamples that I have presented proves that fake news is becoming moreand more prevalent in this day and age, where just about anyone withbasic technical skills can create a website containing misleadingcontent, share it to Facebook and watch it spread like wildfireacross the world without even lifting a finger. However,there is something in Katherine’s article that I cannot fully agreebeyond partial concession. Throughout the article, there is thisovertone that the Internet-era media is responsible for truthslipping away in some sense. In my honest opinion, I feel that thisis not true, as intentionally misleading news was already a problemlong before the Internet or computers were even invented.
Forexample, back in the 17th century, pamphlets, songs andposters were basically the equivalent of social media and proved justas effective as social media at spreading falsehoods. One of the mostpopular examples of misleading and seditious material during the 17thcentury was that of the Mazarinades. During the early years of LouisXIV’s reign, these pamphlets, primarily attacking Louis XIV’sprime minister Cardinal Mazarin, levelled charges of everything fromcorruption and treason to incest and sodomy and other sexualmisdemeanours against the Italian cardinal. Lowliteracy rates did little to slow the spread of these news, as newswas often passed on by word of mouth – the social media of the age.Due to the speed at which the news spread, the outlandish and extremeclaims made by this particular set of pamphlets were mostlysuccessful at misleading those living in France at that period oftime. Singaporein the past wasn’t exempt from misleading news, either.
People whowanted to attack certain entities could do so by spreading seditiousmaterial through either village gossip or pamphlets. And since mostpeople simply assumed that the information was true, they continuedspreading the news via word of mouth, resulting in the fake newsspreading at an astonishing rate.Whileone might argue that the scale at which fake news is being spread haschanged massively, the process and its reshaping of people’sunderstanding of events really has not changed at all. Therefore, tosay that the Internet-era media is solely responsible for thepublishing of false or deceptive news is really not a fair argument. Inconclusion, Katherine Vimer’s write-up makes numerous strikingpoints, such as how the digital revolution has led to a rise in thepublishing of false, misleading, or deliberately outrageous storieswhich have the potential to spread at alarming rates.
However, thereare some parts of her write-up that I do not agree with, such as theimplication that the Internet-era media should be held responsiblefor these misleading stories, as they were already a thing longbefore computers or the Internet became widepread – from 17thcentury pamphleting attacking a specific entity, to simple villagegossip.