Little Pork Pies

You have no doubt heard of Cockney rhyming slang, the peculiar East London dialect designed to fool PC Plod.

It’s been around for a couple of centuries, but as a secret code it has had its day. It’s all encrypted phones and other magic tricks these days.

And of course disinformation—which has always been there—repeat a lie enough times and it becomes the truth. Couples do it to each other, and so do countries.

But social media have taken pork pies, or lies, to a new level. During the cold war, the KGB transformed porkers into an art form. When I was a kid, I used to tune a shortwave radio (what’s that?) to the English language broadcasts of Radio Moscow, the 1960s equivalent of RT. Or maybe I’d listen to Radio Tirana, the mouthpiece of dictator Enver Hoxha—on a very clear night, when the stars were shining, you might even get Radio Hanoi, right in the middle of the Vietnam War.

Nowadays all that stuff streams, and you can get it on your smartphone with an app like TuneIn Radio.

So I heard a lot of lies growing up—not just from the left, but from Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America—both of which had the requisite CIA stamp. The alternative was listening to Portuguese news, which was all fake.

The difference between the lies of yesterday and today isn’t the content, it’s the reach.

Before the internet, and particularly before social media became more popular than oral sex, rumors were limited. Like any disease, or a wildfire, the limiting factor was connectivity.

The other limitation was that materials needed to come from a credible source. To an extent that still happens; Assange could have self-published the various flavors of Wikileaks that turned him into America’s number one enemy—at least before Edward Snowed ’em under, if you excuse the pun.

But instead, Assange moved the stuff on to The Guardian and Der Spiegel, in the knowledge that mainstream news sources would give him credibility. The same happened with the Panama Papers. On the ICIJ website, a search for Trump reveals a substantial list of corporations—but then it’s a catchy name.

Deliciously fake news.

Deliciously fake news.

But brexit and trexit have highlighted a growing trend in fake news, and the Washington Post published a fascinating article on it this week. Of course, the first thing that happened was a riposte from the targeted authors, explaining that it was the Washington Post that systematically published a pack of lies.

What drives the fake news sites? The twin ogres, money and politics.

In the case of libertywritersnews (excuse me for refusing to link to them), a couple of guys in their twenties have replaced their jobs at Pizza Hut for a world of tall stories, sold by the ad click.

By all means check out their site, and one or two stories that you find more interesting, but do me a favor: don’t click the ads—that’s how these fellows make a buck.

The more outrageous the fake news published, the more likely they will get ad revenue. Readers (!) click hither and dither, egged on by the ‘writers’ themselves, and as the clicks add up, the bucks roll in.

In this insane world of tweeting and re-tweeting, the secret is to get the story moving. There are a bunch of sites out there that just copy the fake tale to their sites, and pretty soon you can search for a sentence and find it on twenty different websites.

The stories themselves (How Hillary Silenced the Internet) are at best sophomoric, and the feedback they get is far more interesting that the content.

And that’s the problem. The steady stream of mindless agreement shows that if you give the public what it wants, the sky’s the limit. Russia has exploited this to the utmost, using American-made tools to defeat the US.

Whereas in Russia sites are blocked, journalists arrested and killed, and civil liberties, whether analog or digital, violated daily, Western countries have very little capacity to impose restrictions.

This blind trust in internet content is seen in children, who are incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction, and also in adults, who should definitely know better.

This is cyberwarfare at its best, a combination of pseudonews and social networking, to reach a vast and credulous audience. It can influence elections, make you rich, start a war.

If you type “fake news” into Google, you get almost thirteen million hits. If you type “true news” it’s under half a million.

This week, a supposedly well-informed person (from Scotland) told a group I was with that immediately following brexit, the most popular internet search term in the UK was: ‘What is the EU’.

Tempting though it is, you can debunk it in ten seconds. Not true.

So fake news can strike at all levels, it just depends what you want to believe. You hum it, I’ll play it.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

 

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