By Donagh Broderick
If you could sum up what the internet has allowed for in one simple sentence it would be the decentralisation of information. Gone are the days when libraries and archives held monopoly on information stores. So too has this happened with our news. Today it is possible to learn the news without paying for hefty subscriptions and far more information from a variety of different angles and sources can be found on any topic, political or otherwise.
This decentralisation in news reporting in particular has allowed a new generation of internet savvy independent journalists, be they the likes of Lauren Chen or Kyle Kulinski.
For all their flaws such individuals are not bound by the same corporate limitations of their legacy counterparts and are able to really shine, doing the jobs of media conglomerates at a fraction of the cost they do it for.
Of course, in this era, where anyone can spread information to lots of people and do it quickly, many people worry about the spreading of fake news. This has painfully come to light in the United States where conspiracies around Russian collaboration and voter fraud marred the last two presidential elections and have resulted in the well-meaning but ham-fisted attempts of tech platforms to stop their spread.
Many may wonder if we have entered into a ‘post truth’ era now that fake news spreads so fast online and the ease at which anyone can share their side or opinion of a story, certainly there are no standards anymore for what type of news makes it to people’s attention, and which does not. To these people I would simply ask one question, one that well known Israeli Hhstorian, Yuval Noah Harari, poses in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century: When exactly was this glorious era where truth reigned supreme and fake news was always dismissed? It certainly wasn’t the 2000s where fake news pushed several countries into war in the Middle East. It probably was not during the 1950s when McCarthyism was in full swing. History is littered with examples of fake news and people complaining about its prevalence or affects.
The key difference today is that fake news spreads faster than ever. But so too does real news. The decentralisation of information has also led to the decentralising of narratives and control over them. I propose we embrace Harari’s solution, at least partially, and actually show a willingness to pay for quality information. But that won’t solve everything, partisan outlets often still charge despite their biases.
Like all new technologies social media presents its challenges. For us today it is our responsibility to adapt to them and find solutions, not rid ourselves of the usefulness of it. Now more than ever knowledge on even the most obscure topic is within our ability to learn and master. Social media and the internet have allowed each and every one of us access to more information than any of our ancestors could have helped to even read. The burden falls to us to learn how to sort the facts from fiction.