What a difference a few years makes. Remember way back when, back to the days of yesteryear, where what we read or saw on the news was a reflection of what actually happened? Without anyone paying much attention, the information superhighway became the misinformation superhighway, which begat fake news; a scourge so bad, so divisive, and so partisan, that Apple’s much heralded and yet criticized walled garden ecosystem has begun to look like a well curated paradise.
Fake news has become so maligned by both sides of the political spectrum that Google and Facebook, two of planet earth’s largest purveyors of so-called fake news, have taken steps to help correct the impact on society, and therefore taken a few steps down the walled garden curated ecosystem pioneered by Apple.
For Google, the latest adjustment in the face of public shame and criticism– and perhaps an attempt to head off government intervention, or advertising loss– is a change to search engine results which may tag items as ‘true’ or ‘false’ with a Fact Check label.
Uh oh. Anybody see a problem here?
Already there are search results which display a link to various sources which claim to have fact checked an article. Items can be described as Mostly True or even False, but always with a source for attribution.
Who monitors the monitors? How does Google handle the alternative facts? Who, or what entity, is the final arbiter? How are conflicting perspectives on the same facts handled?
One of the reasons many of us enjoy Apple’s products and the company’s walled garden approach is because it limits the choices available to a cultivated, curated few. That’s why there is less malware on Apple’s products than on Android or Windows devices. Apple’s operating system upgrade process helps to protect customers. So does the App Store curation; a set of rules which protect customers and their devices.
No such rules exist on the misinformation superhighway, and internet users, publisher, commenters, and anyone else can make up their own facts and spread them far and wide with impunity.
That’s wrong, of course, and even in the land of free speech there are limits and consequences– but not on the world wide web. Google, Facebook, and other publishers are attempting to prune the vine that threatens everyone’s freedoms. Facebook’s new Help Center gives tips to spot fake news, including advice for readers to inspect what they read.
Whether or not these efforts by those with major online presence can help stem the tide without damaging the goods or the distribution system remains to be seen. It’s a start. It’s also a step toward what Apple has done for decades with its Disney-esque approach which creates the walled garden ecosystem which can be trusted by a growing number of customers.
The key consideration here is trust. Apple cultivates trust. Google and Facebook are trying to win it back. But trust is a domain that can be spread wide and far. For example, this weekend I was online, rummaging through various packaging stores to find a specific plastic container. Amazon had them in packages of 10 at just about $3 each. Elsewhere online, I could find the same size and brand at $1 less, per container. Amazon Prime had the same container from another retailer for $13. Each.
See what happens to the trust issue? What takes place in the fabric of society when government cannot be trusted, when online giants such as Google and Facebook cannot be trust, and where Amazon cannot be trusted to display and promote the lowest price?
Trust is a major issue in the 21st century and there is less to go around than ever.