Fake news: lay the lie, spring the truth?

Rick Gerkin had an idea I like for countering fake news stories: flood the web with them.

Many markets for high-value products – cash, clothes, handbags, even drugs and rhino horns – have counterfeits. The early counterfeiters reap big profits but once fakes proliferate and get detected, buyers and sellers get savvier and develop authentication methods.

Imagine if truth in journalism organizations published fake news traps across the political spectrum. Publish little lies and big lies, cover many politicians and celebrities, piggyback on lies told by nefarious groups – flood the market with fake “fake news” stories.

Separately, increase funding to non-partisan fact-checking sites like Snopes, FactCheck, and Politifact. Build their coverage and credibility and recruit all kinds of people to be bullshit detectors. When the flood goes viral, encourage people to call B.S. and link to fact-checkers, especially among friends and loved ones stuck in an echo chamber.

These fake news traps can even spring themselves. Once a story reaches a certain number of views, it could reveal itself as fake and link to a fact-checker. “Surprise, you’ve been punked!” Lay the lie, spring the truth.

More satire sites like the Onion could also train people to be on guard. The fake news writer in the below article claimed to be a satirist but satire is meant to be understood as false.

Not only could all this drown out nefarious fake news and bad journalism, it might get people in the habit of fact-checking.

Will people just believe bad journalism they like regardless? Does the amount of false information in society follow a parabola or an asymptote? I think it depends on the costs of believing and spreading lies.

People don’t like being branded as foolish, especially in small circles. Sharing an Onion story thinking it’s true is embarrassing. In the broader public, algorithms could create a “bullshitter score” for how often people share fake news. Make these scores public and searchable and auto-tweet them at bullshitters to foster accountability.

“But a flood of fake news will just make the problem worse!”

Fake news and bad journalism are already pervasive and will get worse since they’ve shown to be effective.

Reality eventually “asserts itself,” as Obama told Trump. The goal is to force everyone to hit the reality wall as soon as possible so we can emerge warier and savvier, preferably before the next election.

“But fake news groups will just create their own fake ‘fact-checking’ sites.”

This is true and inevitable. Counterfeiting and bad behavior in general is a game of cat-and-mouse. There is no silver bullet.

The closest things are 1) intellectual and moral education; and 2) transparency. Until we develop ways to spread both, we need more carrots and sticks.

I get this is out there and maybe a bad idea but the current system isn’t working. Thoughts?

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