My prediction for 2017 is that the explosion of overtly “fake news” of the Macedonian-teenager variety — like that found on highly influential social media platforms such as Facebook and Google during the election this year — will become a thing of the past. In fact, by this time next year, I predict we’ll be joking about “Pope Endorses Trump” and other ditties from this year’s election on future VH1 nostalgia shows.
The reason is pretty simple: Identifying the obvious garbage isn’t that hard. And, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the major tech platforms will come to understand how much it is in their own self-interest to maintain a credible environment for their users. No responsible platform wants to become a “content swamp,” even if it means growth. The reputational risks are huge and the junk ultimately drives away the valued users.
Yes, there will always be dark and stupid places on the internet that are just out to make a buck and that will always spread fake news. But most people won’t want to go there and great companies won’t want to play there, and at least we can work to keep it out of mainstream platforms.
I am also going to be optimistic and say that, once fake news is eradicated from news feeds, many people will rediscover their appreciation for actual facts and reasoned debate. I think this last election shows what can happen when we give into our basest instincts and consume only what we agree with instead of including what is true or important. People are going to get sick of misinformation and a large number of them will find their way back to credible news and educated people talking to each other about genuine issues and hard choices.
(Full confession: I have a personal bias against any discussion where the answer is described as “easy,” “obvious,” or “the only way” — and I give major credit to anyone who is willing to acknowledge real, painful downsides to their preferred position. That tends to be deeply lacking in every segment of the political spectrum.)
It’s not surprising to me that some newspapers have seen bumps in their subscriptions since the election; people crave the high-quality, impartial reporting of quality journalism shops. Reasoned discussion may currently be the weird and radical option in our current political environment, but I feel the tides beginning to turn.
David Chavern is president and CEO of the News Media Alliance (formerly the Newspaper Association of America).