Fake News: because we like lies

Fake News: because we like lies

This short article aims to provoke by defending fake news. I increasingly feel that seeking truth (whatever that means in this complex context) isn’t a priority in our lives.

Not as Italians, Europeans, Americans, Russians, or Brazilians, but as a species, it seems we are more preoccupied with making sense of our actions and clinging to certainties, regardless of their nature.

It’s not the accuracy of a story that matters most, but rather the maintenance of its internal coherence. This isn’t a new observation; many philosophers and scholars before me have noted this human inclination. Commanders, tyrants, and priests of all confessions (call them what you will, but I don’t think the differences between an imam and a rabbi justify a lexical distinction in this context) have exploited it to preserve their privileges and powers.

The Map Is Not the Territory

As with any reflection attempting to shed light on a near-genetic phenomenon, the risk of oversimplifying reality to favor a tautological narrative is always present.

However, I believe it is not I who flattens reality, but rather the “institutional” world of information.

Look around. Can You Tell Me a Fairy Tale?

Nowadays, electoral debates have become so ridiculous, self-referential, and detached from basic logic that no one really follows them. Politics has become so distant from the citizens that we hardly bother to vote anymore. Yet, the narrative of democracy merrily continues with its theatrics, twists, payoffs, and corruption. It’s a compelling film that we evidently don’t want to give up.

Things Exist If They Are Talked About

Consider the discussions about participation in the war in Ukraine, a complex situation with a history predating 2022, where nuanced arguments are silenced. This leads to general embarrassment and near-silence regarding the Pope’s recent interventions against rearmament, environmental degradation, and private enterprise enrichment.

Harari reminds us that one of the methods used to explain the world is to replace complex geopolitical matters with simple stories that don’t require cognitive effort, prior knowledge, or questioning of the status quo.

But where do we place a non-aligned Pope between the villainous Putin and the heroic Biden? It’s easier to make him disappear.

Systemic Disinformation

The issue, in my opinion, is not so much about protecting ourselves from fake news, which, if you’re not foolish, can often be recognized instantly (though this will become increasingly difficult with advancing technology for deep fakes). News with a capital “N” is the real problem. The issue isn’t something sick in a healthy system but a completely diseased organism, in its terminal stage, now necrotized. I’m not just talking about understaffed newsrooms, total dependence on advertisers, and typical newsmaking dynamics. A radical rethink is needed.

Where to start? Who can take the lead in healing this sick body? Who should be at the forefront?

At first glance, we might be tempted to hold journalists themselves responsible, but most are underpaid, contract workers, fearing competition from interns and technologies like ChatGPT. They tiredly read off ANSA’s press releases or latch onto the latest scandal to fill a column, becoming cogs in a machine that devours any attempt to restore dignity to their profession. They don’t leave their desks, don’t investigate, and often don’t even understand what they’re reporting. Some struggle with the Italian language. Not all, of course, but a significant portion of the category, whether intentionally or not, fail to provide a good service.

Disinformation is the Ideal Breeding Ground for Hoaxes

Many believe in fake news because in reality, there’s no limit to human stupidity. That’s why I intend to defend fake news. Not because they are good or healthy, but because without context, the bad seems very bad and the good, very good.

We live in situations so complex, surreal, and dystopian that it’s hard to believe or disbelieve in anything, to discern relevant events and authoritative opinions from mass murmuring, improbable conspiracy theories, and the opinions of self-proclaimed experts lacking dignity.

The Truth is Beautiful, But Fake News Seduces

If it’s true that we like lies and that even the official and institutional information system lies, omits, distorts facts for propaganda, commercial purposes, or power maintenance, then why be angry with fake news? Let’s be angry with those responsible for informing us correctly and especially with ourselves, gullible and ignorant.

After all that has happened in human history, we still believe the first passerby, the comforting drone of TV talk shows, the informational garbage on social media, the charismatic politician. These are just narratives that we like as long as they serve our purpose.

I don’t expect profit-driven algorithms to care about quality of life, well-being of people, animals, and the environment, social equity, or even advocate preventive censorship. In Marshall McLuhan’s “global village,” comprehending what happens is realistically impossible. How can we know about bridge maintenance, advanced financial products, restructuring the exhausted public health system, workers’ struggles in China, managing migration flows, or Russia’s expansionist projects? Too complicated. Heuristics and cognitive biases prevail. The reptilian brain dominates in a world where response speed matters more than accuracy.

We continue to think we’re smarter than we are, but the reality is that we are often very stupid (and often the stupidest believe they know what others should do).

What I’d like is for us to wake up a bit humbler and less fanatical or at least candidly admit that, deep down, we like the fake.

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