In this blog, I address one type of “fake news” - content that causes tangible harm; provocative fictions that can prompt panic and violence. The “PizzaGate” events are case in point: fictional accusations a restaurant was being used for child abuse prompted a case of assault with a deadly weapon. In this context, President Obama referred recently to the “dust cloud” of false information online. The “dust cloud” metaphor is apt as a “dust cloud” a) obscures; b) interferes with intended functionality; c) appears to come from no single origin; d) can be harmful to life and property.
As with other problematic uses of Internet tools, technology and innovation are often responsive to public concerns, and self-regulation can best integrate liberty and safety interests in responding to “fake news” concerns. That’s not to say government action against certain types of “fake news” is completely out of the question. Government action can take the form of private action: civil laws against defamation.
Further, though, responses to fictional provocations should look for opportunities for re-connecting to shared beliefs. Of course “fake news” is false, but what to do with that fact? Too often, human psychology will conflate receipt of corrective facts with an attempt to challenge motivations – or as an attack on one’s moral agenda. A “mike drop” moment feels really good, but by definition it ends dialogue. As with effective responses to violent extremism online, effective responses to "fake news" will recognize this and offer corrections accordingly. Read more about Tool Without a Handle: "A Dust Cloud of Nonsense"