Listen Up Smarty Pants: Fake News is Smarter Than You

How tired  are you of the term ‘fake news’? One particularly odious result of the 2016 election has been the schoolyard-like taunts now part of our collective lexicon. From ‘fake news’ to ‘snowflake’ it’s all very juvenile and tiring.

Increasingly inured to negativity you might have then missed or ignored the recent story about Facebook’s election-related ad buy from a Kremlin-connected firm. The details are murky, the impact unclear, and Facebook’s admission lauded by some for transparency and derided by others for opaqueness.

Here’s why you need to listen up…even the most switched on, informed, skeptical, info- savvy amongst us are spending our days sharing valuable personal information. Not just explicit form-filling, questionnaire-answering type of information, but  your value, beliefs andinterests.

Let’s Start with Facebook

We share our celebrations, concerns, condolences; recap travels, parties and ‘friendship anniversary’ videos. We ‘think’ it’s private, right? We vet our connections; know how to target posts; and change advertising settings.

But even the smartest of us are feeding the beast. Day in and day out across the web.The data beast knows what makes our hearts sing.

Here is a deceptively simple example:

What Facebook Knows About Me!

In reality, the Facebook ’social graph’ is even more complex than what you see above. Imagine something more akin to the Spirograph you played with when young. You are one little data point on that pretty picture. And it’s clever and will become increasingly clever over time. It’s more clever than the best of you.

And that’s the problem. Data will outsmart us and make us do things and believe things because it gets to know us. Now layer on top of this money. Lots and lots of money. Facebook, for example, is a publicly-traded, commercially-focused business. Don’t let the ‘connect the world’ rhetoric fool you…it’s a business.

This brings us back to Russia’s interference in the election and the preponderance of ‘fake news’….

What Facebook Meddling Means to You

While specifics of the company’s election-timed ad buy(s) and results are murky, what is clear is what it means to you. (1) you may read something compelling, well-written and find it hard to tell if it is indeed true. So, do a bit of research and look for multiple views /articles on a given subject; (2) don’t ignore it when a piece of content says ‘sponsored’ at the top; even if it’s something you are interested in, ‘sponsored’ means paid for and targeted directly to you knowing you will be interested; (3) keep generally aware. It’s begun, it’s happening, you can’t necessarily control the ways in which data collection and ad media targeting are upon us (…which will also become more complex as data drives AI) but humans are rational and skeptical beasts so for now we have the capacity to question everything…

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. Voltaire