Is instant publishing and reach incompatible with stopping misinformation?

I wish the press took fact checking a bit more seriously. When major events of any kind take place, media publications at large jump the gun to break out any info that seems remotely publishable. They spurt out instant takes and hammered quotes to grab more views, and thus ultimately more money, in this attention economy. Make no mistake, this attention feeds the egos of most reporters themselves. They’re humans too after all, generally submissive to copious amounts of social dopamine. And so they feel incentivized—or at least pressured—to keep dishing out hot bursts of information and perspectives.

On the reader side, critical events—good or bad—make most people so emotional that they forget their scientific hats, leaving them vulnerable to ostensible propaganda over prolonged cementing of facts. This makes the whole damn publisher-reader dynamic a vicious cycle, where chasing hard facts from either end slows you down and out of people’s field of view.

If only we accept a little delay in breaking news and reward patience, we could avoid so much noise and misinformation, a lot of which is irreversible even on long timescales. Instead, what we did was create a system that made everything more agonizing. It’s one thing to publish information on a website and let people consume it via organic shares, subscriptions, and (reverse) chronological feeds, but it’s completely another to instantly algorithmically amplify content created on a whim. Welcome to “modern” social media.

What we’re really grappling with in terms of misinformation and its spread are but sides effects of three core attributes of these “modern” social networks:

  • make web publishing hyper instant
  • bring virtually every person in one massive digital square
  • leave amplification to the algorithm instead of people, meaning people’s emotions get tapped into primarily instead of their intellect

Unless we solve for these at scale, I don’t see misinformation and its woes dwindling. When we want instant and maximum visibility for our posts, we can keep creating as many digital socials as we like but it won't solve the problem.

At this point you can bet that it gets worse still. How we’ve been handling generative AI has added a fourth dreaded dimension to the whole issue, one not just of publishing misinformation at an unprecedented rate but so via authentic-seeming false identities.

Image: Bing AI

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