Much consternation has occurred in recent weeks over the proliferation of fake news sites and their unintended consequences on the U.S. presidential election (or intended consequences, if you’re a conspiracy theorist). Facebook has been accused of contributing to either the alt-right’s overthrow of democracy or to the left’s shocking demise.
Reports are now circulating that Google, Facebook and others are penalizing fake news sites to de-emphasize their rankings in various algorithms, hopefully steering unwitting readers away.
Life is complicated when you build something that prioritizes popular thinking only to find that popular thinking isn’t ideally discerning.
I’m all for anything that will keep the blind from leading the blind, but there is a fine line between preventing ignorance and censoring entertainment.
Fake news sites, for the most part, are satirical looks at our world, though some members of our team even disagree. They’re comedy. They’re fodder. While some certainly skirt the line of what’s obviously satire and what might actually be true — and yes, some do that intentionally to drive more traffic — preventing people from consuming media of any kind may have some unintended consequences of its own.
Think of your favorite comedy sites. Are any of them satirical? They may stop appearing in your feed and search results if the algorithm tweaks are far reaching enough.
If you are familiar with Elasticity at all, you are certainly familiar with the American Mustache Institute. This charity-effort-driven organization offers engaging content, and it does so with satire and good fun as its guiding vibe. Will AMI take a hit because Facebook is being blamed for Donald Trump? Who knows.
The problem for most people today is that there is no longer an intention to seek media. It is delivered to us based on metrics from our friends and their friends and what is popular. The upside of that is we consume things we are likely to enjoy based on our social graph. But we all have stupid friends, which means the social graph isn’t perfect.
I mean, really? Aaron Perlut’s online behavior contributes to what appears in my Facebook feed? God help me.
Unless or until we recreate the intent to consume specific media, we all may have to say goodbye to good satire. And that will make the world a little less fun to live in.
What will you do to protect satire? Please discuss ideas of guns, pit bulls and condoms in the comments.