When it comes to assigning responsibility for the fake news epidemic, people point fingers in many directions. But though that is easy to do, I think that the source of it is cultural. Where did our fake news problem come from?
It came from a media landscape which values immediacy more than accuracy. It started with the many small lies that slipped past editors eager to "break" news before there were retractions and non-apologies because "such is the nature of the news business".
Fake news came from our love of gossip and our preference for voyeurism in the form of TV shows like Bigg Boss. We pretty much told news-makers we want to hear exciting things more than we want to hear true and important things. We announced, by making such shows TRP goldmines, that we would rather spy on people’s personal lives than spend time understanding matters of contemporary and historical importance. We chose the tabloid over the newspaper.
Fake news came from a content culture where numbers — eyeballs, visitors, hits, views — are god almighty. It came from a way of working in the media which prioritises attention over everything else. We are now literally at a point where we share pictures of our genitals with strangers to get their attention.
It came from a place where publishers of newspapers went on the record to say they are in the advertising business, sending out a clear message about what they thought of the public. In not so many words, they said that people were eyeballs, not people. They absolved themselves of all the responsibilities that come with being a publisher of news.
It came from a world where the logic of advertising was applied to areas it did not belong in. Selling stuff requires getting someone's attention. Giving people information should not have to be that way. Journalism is a public good. News is not a product.
It came from a place where social networking is about building a “following” and not about building relationships. People have 5000 "friends" most of whom they know nothing about. We devalued interpersonal interaction and started performing for each other's entertainment.
It started when each of us became a peddler of fake news by broadcasting versions of our personal lives that have little to do with reality. We got okay with lying about our mornings and evenings. And then our "friends" got okay with it too. Lying about life was now part of life.
It came from a culture that celebrates subjectivity a little too much. It began when we convinced ourselves that each person can have "their own truth" and that all statements are true from one point of view or the other. We devalued objective reality and said "fuck facts" without knowing it. So fucked were the facts that today, they have simply stopped mattering.
The fake news problem is a problem in our eyes today because it exists. It is a problem because it has grown large and noticeable now. We planted the seeds of this epidemic over many years. Fake news is a cultural problem. We are that culture.