Monday, January 9, 2017

"Moral Panic Over Fake News Hides the Real Enemy – the Digital Giants"

The author is not impressed with what's coming out of Silicon Valley these days.
OpEd at The Guardian:
Evgeny Morozov is the author of the Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. He is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and runs the magazine's Net Effect blog. He is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation.
Claims that Russia is behind the political shocks of 2016 ignore the corrupting influence of digital capitalism

Democracy is drowning in fake news. This is the latest reassuring conclusion drawn by those on the losing side of 2016, from Brexit to the US elections to the Italian referendum.

Apparently, all these earnest, honest and unfashionably rational grownups are losing elections because of a dangerous epidemic of fake news, internet memes and funny YouTube videos. For this crowd, the problem is not that the Titanic of democratic capitalism is sailing in dangerous waters; its potential sinking can never be discussed in polite society anyway. Rather, it’s that there are far too many false reports about giant icebergs on the horizon.

Hence the recent surfeit of misguided solutions: ban internet memes (proposed by Spain’s ruling party); establish commissions of experts to rule on the veracity of news (a solution floated by Italy’s antitrust chief); set up centres of defence against fake news while fining the likes of Twitter and Facebook for spreading them (an approach suggested by German authorities).

This last proposal is a great way to incentivise Facebook to promote freedom of expression – the same Facebook that has recently censored a photo of the nude statute of Neptune in the centre of Bologna for being too obscene! A tip for authoritarian governments: if you want to get away with online censorship, just label any articles you do not like as fake news and no one in the west will ever complain about it.

Will the fake news crisis be the cause of democracy’s collapse? Or is it just a consequence of a deeper, structural malaise that has been under way for much longer? While it’s hard to deny that there’s a crisis, whether it’s a crisis of fake news or of something else entirely is a question that every mature democracy should be asking.

Our elites are having none of it. Their fake news narrative is itself fake: it’s a shallow explanation of a complex, systemic problem, the very existence of which they still refuse to acknowledge. The ease with which mainstream institutions, from ruling parties to thinktanks to the media, have converged upon “fake news” as their preferred lens on the unfolding crisis says a lot about the impermeability of their world view.

The big threat facing western societies today is not so much the emergence of illiberal democracy abroad as the persistence of immature democracy at home. This immaturity, exhibited almost daily by the elites, manifests itself in two types of denial: the denial of the economic origins of most of today’s problems; and the denial of the profound corruption of professional expertise.

The first type manifests itself whenever phenomena like Brexit or Donald Trump’s electoral success are ascribed primarily to cultural factors such as racism or voter ignorance. The second type denies that the immense frustration many people feel towards existing institutions stems not from their not knowing the whole truth about how they operate but, rather, from knowing it all too well.
Blinded by these two denials, policymakers prescribe more of what alienates voters in the first place: more expertise, more centralisation, more regulation. But, since they can’t think in terms of political economy, they inevitably end up regulating the wrong things.

The moral panic around fake news illustrates how these two denials condemn democracy to perpetual immaturity. The refusal to acknowledge that the crisis of fake news has economic origins makes the Kremlin – rather than the unsustainable business model of digital capitalism – everyone’s favourite scapegoat....