Why Is Online Disinformation A Thing? Part 2: Shitposting Is Our Hope

In Part 1, I mentioned that I don't think the Internet is doomed to being an environment of disinformation and "fake news". I painted a grim picture, but some of it is rooted in a "traditional" model of communication -- an obsolete, paternalistic model that largely sees receivers as non-critical consumers. That's not how it works. It never really worked that way, for that matter.

If you ever watched Tom & Jerry as a kid, there are probably a bunch of things you didn't quite get at that age. Like blackface comedy, hopefully, but also like jokes that ridiculed the stereotypes of 1930s and 1940s printed press and radio.

Lots of things are completely normal and mundane one day, only to end up entirely ridiculous -- from press tropes to 1980s hairstyles and, holy fuck, mustaches. And in-between these states there is a sort of a limbo, when things are not quite gone and out yet, but lots of people -- especially younger people, whose mind is fresher and whose ability to call on other people's bullshit has not been numbed by years of exercising societal norms -- see them for how ridiculous they are.

And the Internet, the same vehicle that carries fake news and disinformation, gives these people the tools to call on the ridiculousness of these stories. It is, perhaps, a testament to how blind technology is: the same vehicle that carried Breitbart to glory will also carry it to its demise.

Shitposting is one such tool. Shitposts are the written equivalent of caricature. But there is a certain additional dimension to caricaturing written lies. Whereas carricatures are post-factum creations of a different nature than what they depict, shitposts that read like news, or like things that the fans of fake news outlets would say, are of a similar nature.

When a buffoon produces written material of the same kind, and it's nearly impossible to tell it from the real deal, they are sending a message that even the least perceptive receive: that the real deal is also a buffoonery.

There is hope: the next generation of Internet users has been so steeped in the culture of fake news that they have no qualms using the right name for them -- lies -- since they have not inherited the no longer deserved respect for the profession that produces them. Unlike us, they have not grown up in a world where the role of journalists worldwide was changed. They are growing up in a world where it has changed, and I have no doubt that they will be the ones who will understand the role of media, influencers and producers: not to inform, but to radicalize, not to unite, but to enrage.

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