Is the crisis of "fake news" just a symptom of neoliberalism's looming collapse?
An excellent essay by Evgeny Morosov in The Guardian looks behind the fake news phenomenon and its corrosive effects on democracy.
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 think tanks 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.
It won’t take long for some genius policy entrepreneur, fed up with the authoritarian nature of current proposals, to unleash the genius of free markets on this problem. Why not, say, establish a post-truth emissions trading scheme, where news organisations could trade their government-issued fake news permits? Ridiculous, yes; ineffective, yes – but the scheme would surely receive major social innovation prizes.
The only solution to the problem of fake news that neither misdiagnoses the problem nor overpowers the elites is to completely rethink the fundamentals of digital capitalism. We need to make online advertising – and its destructive click-and-share drive – less central to how we live, work and communicate. At the same time, we need to delegate more decision-making power to citizens – rather than the easily corruptible experts and venal corporations.