It's The Social Media, Stupid!
These days we are literally flooded by a suffocating sidestream smoke about the "fake-news-circulating-on-Facebook" and their alleged impact on the recent presidential elections in our country. Who are those who are crying foul? Significantly the traditional media outlets, the usual establishment pundits, habitual spin doctors and their paid or courtesy amen corners.
I think the comment made by the Facebook CEO, Mr. Zuckerberg was the best first line response to the rumor: “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with David Kirkpatrick at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif. “I think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason why someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw some fake news.”
Beyond the honest and the obvious, we need to dig deeper in this crescendo of nonsense. Here are my two cents as a guy who published his first book on mass media content analysis and statistical forecast 26 years ago (1990).
Let me be brutally clear: "Fake News" cannot determine the results of an election campaign that lasted for months and devoured somewhere between $3 and $10 billion dollars!! Stating otherwise is just sheer balderdash.
No, this is not about the "Fake News" nor about Facebook only. This is about the overall social media and their very nature as the new political communication tools and channels. For decades, the traditional media outlets (TV, Radio, and Newspapers) have functioned as strong gatekeepers of political mobility by filtering in/out the aspiring politicians or simple public-office-seekers. They have done this largely on behalf of the ruling organized interests and their social and political expressions. The reality of nowadays is a major loss of those capabilities by the old-fashioned, unilateral and non-interactive media.
The emergence of the new social media has largely contributed to this loss started mainly during the late 1990s, and significantly accelerated during and after the second half of 2000. We have already witnessed the impact of Twitter as a major social and political mobilizer tool across the world during the last decade or so. Think of Iran in 2009 and Turkey of a couple of years ago.
We have seen the electoral impact of the social media in the US when an outsider (Mr. Obama) was first elected back in 2008 and then reelected in 2012. Without the social media's significant mediation most probably we would have never had the lifetime chance to elect our first African-American president, let alone a true outsider.
The most recent elections have produced the same results but in a lot more impactful way for a number of reasons among which a hard-fought campaign between a typical outsider (Mr. Trump) and a deeply rooted establishment insider (Mrs. Clinton).
All these results have nothing to do with true or fake circulating news. This is about the social media and their interactive and mobocratic (in its positive meaning) nature. The traditional media outlets and their establishment patrons cry foul mainly because they are finally realizing their increasing marginalization in the political process both during the campaigns and throughout the major public debate and decision-makings.
Unsurprisingly the monological media's reaction is swift and specious: They are trying (including in legal terms) to rollback almost two decades of social media grassroots revolution by imposing their decaying filtration-based logic. But they are terribly wrong for the simple basic reason that social media feed can't be sifted because of its interactiveness and very mobocratic nature. In technical terms, such hypothetical filtration (aka ) is way beyond the human capacities because of the huge volume of the feeds, and requires the use of ad hoc algorithms and possibly sophisticated artificial intelligence techniques. But more importantly the mobocracy's rules apply to social media themselves too: Try to screen the feeds and soon they will go around you. Try harder and the feeds will generate alternative stream channels. It is not difficult to understand that this is a tragic cul de sac that will end up in shutting down the Internet as a whole...
The near future could bring yet a lot more awkwardness: We still have to wait and see the unprecedented impact of the social media after the election of a first timer who is preparing to take office in a few weeks: 15 million followers and tweeting under the moon! That may sound like a fancy title for a romantic song. Not at all: It will be rather the monological media's permanent nightmare. Don't you believe me? Just wait for the next tweet!