Who is this 4chan women's gymnastics

Research 2017

Anyone who says fake news today is also somewhat indignant about the reality in which many things seem to be in disarray, especially with regard to authorship and authority. This aspect is not sufficiently appreciated in the current discussion. Most of the time, the focus is on discrediting untrue messages. It is fundamentally assumed that there can only be such a thing as true messages, yes: that only they have a right to exist.

Photo: Kayla Velasquez, CC0
https://unsplash.com/@km_mixedloev

But isn't it also part of democracy to argue about what is true and what is untrue? Today, fake news is also a rallying cry of those who do not want to get involved in the argument; People who have found their truth, even if in the end only one thing is clear to them: that they cannot and do not want to accept the truths of others. Whether Trump supporters or Trump opponents.

In this respect, I also agree with the technology researcher danah boyd when she says in the fake news debate1: “If we are looking for technical solutions to complex socio-technical problems, we cannot simply shirk our responsibility and hire a few companies to mend the ruptures in society that made them visible and reinforced. "

The democratization of fake news

The main reason why the idea of ​​fake news could become such a big thing is above all the variety of voices that make statements about the world today - and thus sometimes more, sometimes less energetically, lay claim to truthfulness. False reports, disinformation and propaganda in general have a history - but today it's not just the big institutions and authorities who can put all of this into the world as a matter of course, but also Max Mustermann, some algorithm, a goddamn bot or a whistleblower.

So we not only have to question the novelty of the fake news phenomenon, but also the changed conditions under which supposed truths are brought into the world today. Let's start the search movement in everyday life: the other day I heard the sentence "You are fake news". This is a variant of "Me boss, you nothing!"; a sentence that goes on, however, and brings our situation precisely to the point.

"You are fake news" does not simply mean that you are a bad joke or bad news, but an unauthorized message. Someone who says this not only wants to deny the confrontation (or being confronted), but also denies the sender the right to confront at all. The opposite is denied the right to exist.

It's a question of authorship that is in this room. More specifically, how authorship can be obtained, confirmed and asserted. Who can pretend to be an author? The talk of “fake news” wants to create clarity here by bringing an idea of ​​exclusion into the world. But exclusion is not too clearly defined here. The criteria are vague.

Who should be heard?

That we got used to listening exclusively to exalted subjects, i.e. potential candidates for the Nobel Prize or prospective or incumbent demagogues - that is a situation that we should question. I don't even want to say that we are bringing our idea of ​​sublimity and subjectivity to the level of digital society (certainly also), but simply that we should rethink our criteria: Who gets my attention? Who does not?

Should the Pegida follower or the asylum seeker also be heard? Should we also listen to bots and algorithms as well as whistleblowers and leakers? (Of course, active listening is meant here.) Admittedly, these are all very different speaking positions, you could say that they cannot be lumped together. But the common denominator is: Firstly, these are emerging and socially poorly represented 'transmitters'. Second, they have no authority and accordingly have a precarious author status. In short, they are potential 'writers' of fake news. But if we don't start to take emerging and badly represented broadcasters seriously, we run the risk of becoming unrealistic beings.

Algorithms and Fake News

We are now used to receiving recommendations for purchase, consumption and important life decisions of computer programs. They have crept into our smartphone-supported everyday life without us noticing them. Other developments, on the other hand, are more in the focus of attention: for example, forecasts of election results or share price developments, which in a similar way not only predict but also decisively shape the future on the basis of as much data, scenarios and the future as possible.

But regardless of whether they are more or less invisible or appear as small software stars, hardly anyone asks the all-important question: Who is the author of algorithmic predictions or recommendations? Is it the programmer who develops the software, is it the software itself that develops a life of its own and begins to act as artificial intelligence, or is it those who first 'read' the algorithmic wink as a sign and only then turn it into reality implement - we who are users, viewers or consumers at will.

What is actually our role when algorithms begin to map out our lives. Who is the author? God and his representatives have become secondary. Artificial intelligence is on the advance, Norbert Wiener wrote about it shortly after the Second World War. Not many wanted to hear that back then. Today, Wiener’s theses are more widely heard, for example when it is discussed that AI brings something like “technological singularity” with it. According to Wikipedia, this is the point in time "when machines rapidly improve themselves using artificial intelligence and thus accelerate technical progress to such an extent that the future of mankind behind this event can no longer be foreseen".

The demand for transparency

The following question is too seldom asked in political discussions: Who has something to say? To put it another way, it is the question of authorship and authority. Incidentally, this question is also raised when NGOs such as Algorithm Watch demand transparency about how decisions are made using algorithms. Because only when we know how the respective algorithm works - for example Google's search algorithm - can we begin to discuss the question of responsibility and authorship in a semi-substantial manner.

The transparency debate also brings with it some problems. I still remember the first major Wikileaks projects, such as the publication of around a quarter of a million US diplomatic reports, and the first major intellectual confrontation with the phenomenon: an activist platform challenges a superpower. That was in 2010 and 2011. At that time the question was not least whether a transparency initiative like Wikileaks is allowed to have something like an agenda or what it means if it has one.

Having an agenda also means that the neutrality of the platform was up for discussion: Is Wikileaks only committed to transparency in a certain (e.g. geo-political) direction? Is the platform primarily fighting against the machinations of the USA? If so, whose interests would it be served? Who would want to fund such a fight? Even then, Russia was being discussed as a possible sponsor of the platform. Hardly anyone asked: Weren't interests always involved when it came to 'piercing' information and ensuring transparency?
Interests can be as diverse as "I want to put myself in a more advantageous position" or "I want to ensure justice". The latter is considered an honorable motivation for leaking. The former is not. The latter, i.e. the imperative of justice, has been in the foreground in all debates in recent years, the former, i.e. the strategic benefit, hardly. Now the discourses are mixing. There has been talk of a strategic leak for several months - for example, in view of the emails disclosed by the Democrats during the US election campaign.

In this context, too, it is about authorship and authority. Of course, the assumption of a strategy, a bias, a certain interest is always an attempt to discredit a leak and a whistleblower. »But that's only good for the Russians!«, Ergo: it can only be wrong, in other words: fake news. But we have to learn to be able to talk about both political benefits (i.e., who is the leak of?) And political consequences (i.e., what does the leak reveal and what follows from it?).

We have to understand that one does not exclude the other per se. Just because a certain leak uses "the Russians" does not necessarily mean that it is fake news. It must be taken seriously one way or another - both in terms of authorship and authority. Not only journalists, but also the users of social media should consistently supplement their W-questions (“what” and “where”) with “who”, “how” and “why”.