Social media are no more dangerous than life generally. But they require different interpretation skills from what we need for face-to-face contact. So do books, telephone, radio, and TV. And the current angst isn’t a new phenomenon. It normally follows the introduction of new communications technologies.
One example is the anxiety that resulted from printing, especially of Bibles. The anxiety was not baseless; widespread literacy was one driver of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. But would suppressing the printing press have been any help? Was controlling it much of a help? The seething anger already existed and would lead to wars in any event. Literacy helped many people understand their problems in terms of ideas as well as emotions. The centuries of bloodshed eventually resulted in principles of religious toleration that are unknown to much of the world even today (despite the fact that those other regions also have gone through centuries of bloodshed). Yet during all that time, much popular literature was actually scandal and drivel.
Government can only drive out fake news by trying to control all news, Chinese-style. As a result, real news becomes transgressive. So, ironically, the survival of real news is bound up with the survival of fake news. Put another way, when I whoosh past the checkout counter tabloids, I remind myself that they are a small price to pay for the free press that was built around real news.More.
See also: What isfake news? Do we believe it?
Does fake news make a difference in politics?
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