Remember the 1990s when we were told the internet was the information super highway? It looked really promising at first. At your fingertips was what you wanted or needed to know. It was clunky when it started, but the internet became ever-more refined over the next two decades.
It has given life to an entirely new and vibrant media marketplace where a wide range of subjects are covered; health and fitness, politics, lifestyle, sports and much more. I like Raw Story, a news aggregator, Mediaite, Media Matters, Salon, and the New York Times sites.
But for all the positives the internet offers, it has also become the disinformation highway, kind of like how our interstate highway system is littered with refuse thrown from passing vehicles. Out in Montana, the state DOT picks up large plastic soda bottles filled with urine tossed by truckers who don’t want to stop to relieve themselves.
And there’s an apt analogy for what the internet has become, a fetid sewer filled with all manner of sickening debris, everything from child pornography to conspiracy theories about Democratic leaders eating the adrenal glands of children they rape and murder to sustain their youth. The dark web is even worse.
There’s something for everyone’s taste, no matter how depraved.
Our adversaries have figured this vulnerability out. While China and Russia tightly control what’s available online for their citizens, they exploit our easy access to the web to spread disinformation across virtually all social media platforms to foment political division, racial hatred and violence.
It’s no longer like the old days when radio, television and print were the only media. Was it perfect then? No, but these were mostly overseen by responsible editorial management that recognized disinformation when it was presented.
As a young public relations man in Manhattan 40 years ago, I saw the media’s skepticism first hand. When I sent a Wall Street Journal reporter a press release about a client’s new product or service, and he or she was interested, I needed to be prepared to support every assertion made in the release with verifiable facts. If I failed to do that, the reporter’s trust was lost.
Lie to me once, shame on you…
Now, if what is posted on-line produces clicks and shares the facts don’t matter. Only advertising revenues matter, so the more outlandish, the more grotesque, the more salacious, the better.
“Hey, honey, look here! Joe Biden is a pedophile!”
That’s according to some anonymous poster living in his mother’s basement in Macon, not a by-lined journalist for New York Times or Washington Post, who, if discovered making stuff up, would be summarily fired and likely never work in the legitimate media again.
And there’s the big difference. Those posting bull feathers on the disinformation super highway often hide or, if not, their platforms shrug off the lies, distortions or half-truths they post. Clicks and shares, that’s it, no consequences, just like that long-haul trucker tossing a disgusting bottle onto the shoulder of I-90.
Some social media, most notably Facebook and Twitter, have taken to fact-checking these bogus posts and placing disclaimers on them. In response, those posting them say they’re being “censored” or “cancelled.” No, they’re being held accountable for spreading disinformation. But these editorial efforts appear scattershot at best and I suspect the profit motive is why.
Thus, we need to be discriminating consumers of information, now more than ever, because what happens to align with our thoughts or feelings on a particular topic isn’t necessarily validated by what we see, read or hear online. Like the reporters I once dealt with, we the people need to be skeptical and not instantly accept what some unknown guy living in his mother’s basement posted because we might agree.
That’s made difficult when about 35-40% of the country believes what ex-President Trump lied about, that mainstream media is “fake news” and the “enemy of the people” for presenting factual information.
There are many among that crowd who will never buy into anything that doesn’t affirm their resentments or biases, so the disinformation super highway thrives, frequently exploited by unscrupulous politicians and their media allies.
For example, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene re-tweeted and then deleted a post from a supporter calling House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy a “feckless” (followed by an obscenity that cannot even be suggested in a family newspaper) for condemning Greene’s horrific Holocaust analogy about COVID-19 vaccinations.
And leave it to a Trump-loving millionaire to cash in on the market for online disinformation. Patrick Byrne, who founded Overstock.com, is inviting his followers to pay five dollars a month for his election fraud “truth.” The truth, incidentally, is there was no fraud.
The Daily Beast reports Byrne will rake in a cool million this year from the suckers who subscribe to his scam. Caveat emptor, as they say in Latin – let the buyer beware.