The Future is Fake.
Fake news is not new. It dates back to Gutenberg and the printing press. It has been used throughout history to influence and sway public opinion, and even in some cases, started revolutions and wars. Even our most esteemed heroes have employed this method to catalyze the “proletariat” to action. Benjamin Franklin wrote patently false pamphlets about King George working with “murderous scalping Indians” to whip people into a war-footing. (http://tinyurl.com/zfuja29). And of course, we’ve all come in direct contact with a Fake News resurgence, courtesy of the US Presidential Election of 2016 (http://tinyurl.com/h4l6pjj).
Using fake news to control an outcome is as old as civilization itself.
You know what else is fake? Our food. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are heavily used throughout the food supply of the United States (http://tinyurl.com/l6h79ku), and are quite controversial (http://tinyurl.com/lx2z9p4). On the one hand, scientists argue that humans have been modifying food since Mendel stopped messing with bees and started planting peas. On the the other hand, many noteworthy academics, including the author of AntiFragile, Nassim Talleb, argue that “tinkering in the garden” is not the same as controlled manipulation in the lab (http://tinyurl.com/p2249hv). While the GMO advocates claim that inventions like synthetic meat are simply an attempt to control the quality and quantity of production, and are ultimately safe for humankind (http://tinyurl.com/kqmbbsp).
Of course, there are plenty of options for fake body parts so people can control their appearance. I think we all know how to spot these…
Guess what’s coming soon? Fake identities. Now, I’m not talking about your college-age kid getting a fake laminated ID to get into bars, or the ones that result from a hacker getting access to your information, or a breach from a top-tier retailer (or government agency; thank you very much OPM). I’m talking about the one you’re already using for that second Instagram account that’s just for your inner circle. Or that secondary email address you use to register for sites you want to avoid getting spam from. Or, perhaps, your twitter account that no one knows about Mr. Director Comey…oops (http://tinyurl.com/kg3ykxj).
Let’s ask ourselves why the top law enforcement official in the United States felt a need to create a fake Twitter account? Could it be the same reason Hamilton, Jay and Madison wrote The Federalist Papers under the pseudonym Publius? Why does J.K. Rowling feel the need to write under the name of Robert Galbraith? And why do you have a SnapChat account that only your closest friends know about?
I submit it’s because, in a world that feels like it’s spinning out of control — where loss of agency, globalization and centralization have spawned strong feelings of animosity and distrust — and where surveillance of every single aspect of my digital life has become commonplace (albeit something people clearly don’t appreciate http://pewrsr.ch/2cRz16m), people want more control over how, when, and where they share the personal details of their everyday existence. People are simply tired of browsing for shoes, and then having a shoe ad follow them to the next ten websites they visit. They’re irritated when they order a belt and get three emails a day from the retailer for the next year. And they’re nervous about getting that online insurance quote, or researching that medical issue, knowing that their digital footprint is not only being tracked and recorded, but is being sold and resold — forever, without their consent and usually without their knowledge.
No one knows how many fake identities exist. But there are good reasons to believe it’s more than we think. Recently, Twitter disclosed that they have eliminated 350,000 fake accounts. But perhaps more indicative, a study has estimated that up to 48 million accounts are fake (http://tinyurl.com/k3o75wk). That’s 15%! If that same percentage held true for Facebook, there’d be a group of fake accounts the size of Twitter on the Social Network. Makes one wonder if there’s a connection between fake accounts and the persistent and pervasive problem of over-stated metrics with many ad-based businesses (http://wp.me/p7nzsS-1fw). Either way, “fake” is here to stay.
Instead of lamenting the ‘lack of integrity’ that multiple identities creates (http://www.michaelzimmer.org/?p=2079), maybe we should ask ourselves what a “fake identity” really is? Of course, any identity created without your consent should be considered objectively ‘wrong.’ But I’m more interested in the fake identities you create all the time; the ones that serve your interests supporting various roles in your life. Maybe you’re an author who wants to rise above gender, or it may be you’re a high-profile government employee who just wants to sit in the cheap seats and see what all the hype is about? Perhaps, like me, you want to go to a conference without having to leave all the digital breadcrumbs for sponsors, service providers and annoying sales people. Maybe you just want to sell those tickets on Craigslist without having to leave a trail. It might be that you’re going through a personal and private issue and just want to research and participate in forums with like-minded people? The point is, fake identities are not necessarily bad. They can be quite useful to take back control of your own personal, modern digital world. They can be a useful tool for passive resistance in a world where everything we do, say, write and view is stored and recorded forever. Maybe, every once in a while, that fake news story provides the “sunlight to disinfect” (thanks National Enquirer…http://tinyurl.com/maw6hrt) and, just maybe, fake identities serve our interests.