Digital media is playing a role similar to an amplifier. It has a great capability to amplify the voices. It also can amplify all the noises in the world.
“We are going to make the world a better place by the democratisation of information distribution and giving voice to all whom do not have one in the mainstream and authorities media.”
This was one of the many promises of the new digital age.
A Brave New World
Blogs, tons of different social media, audio and video sharing services and many other tools which stand upon the framework of the Internet, opened gates to unimaginable realities.
That promise was not a lie. Over and over again, we saw how these new media empowered people and forgotten ones. Because of it, now, we know stories about issues that may get forgotten if it was not because of the Internet. Social media has the power to create waves of changes. Just look at Iran Green Movement in 2009 and Arab Spring a few months later.
This new platform, kept its promise, but the promise was not all the truth. As we all have experienced it by now, it turns out that this tool, like many other technological tools, is just an instrument.
Noise, Noise and Noise
If the Internet and its media could amplify the voices of forgotten people and shed light on untold stories, it also can amplify the noises. Moreover, like an amplifier which connected to a radio, it will help to hear the real voices just if the radio tuned on the right frequency. Otherwise, you will have laud, meaningless and sometimes dangerous noises.
People with different agendas are using digital and social media to advance their goals. They are creating marketing campaigns or semi-military one to reshape the perception of the audiences from the facts. This is part of our new reality: The Fake News.
Fake Person, Real Effect on Politics
Take this one as an example: Heshmat Alavai is a famous Iranian activist outside of Iran. His twitter account had thousands of followers. Some major media published stories written by him – including the Forbs – and the White House referred to his articles as a response to journalists. It all seems fantastic. Except such a person does not exist in the real world.
On June 9th 2019, the intercept had published a story about him and pointed out that this character was created by a group of ‘cyber activist’ inside the MEK (One of the significant anti-Iranian political and militia group).
A few days ago, a few photos had been published that claimed taken from inside of the MEK camp in Tirana, Albania. These photos demonstrated packed rows of computer stations with users allegedly running a fake cyber campaign against Iran and people on twitter who are not supporting their agendas.
These photos (If the credibility of them could be believed) is just one side of the cyber battle in Iran. Inside Iran, Basij, one of the five forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, launched its cyber army force. These groups are operating mostly from Basij’s office in mosques, and you can find similar images there. Lots of young member of Basij operated multiple fake accounts in social media to demonstrate a different reality for the users of this platform. They also – like their counterpart in opposition –actively monitor activities of other accounts and run campaign to discredit them.
This is just one of many examples of the reality of the fake news world that we are living in.
Age of Noises
For some of us, these are old stories. However, we should not get used to it. Because there are ordinary users on social media, who are not following stories like news junkies. These fake worlds could easily deceive them. Moreover, even in a perfect democracy, those are who vote to shape the new political power and how that vote could be ‘real’ if it is based on ‘fake facts’. This is how people end up voting even against their own interests
We are living in the age of noises. It is not enough to just produce reliable stories, but we have to find ways to empower people to separate signal and noises.
However, it could be a tricky way too. Why should people trust us to tell them what is real and what is fake?
Why should they trust us when the source of fake news and noises also keep telling them that we are the reality and others are just agent of establishment and do not want you to hear the real story from us?
Don’t hide noises, empower the signals
The answer may be not evident. However, there is one thing, worth keeping in mind to address this challenge, and that is the removing or censorship of the noises is not the answer. It could hide those ideas but can not correct them either let the audiences learn the difference between the credible or not-credible sources. This path will add to the legitimacy of their claim. In the age of mistrust, many could ask, why we are silencing their voices if there is not any truth in it?
How we are going to address this challenge probably would determine our future in regards to decision making and being informed.