The Reality Game | Samuel Woolley

Summary of: The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth
By: Samuel Woolley


Are you intrigued by the impact of technology on truth and trust in today’s democratic institutions? Dive into ‘The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth’ by Samuel Woolley for an eye-opening exploration of how our digital age has changed the media landscape and the way we perceive reality. The book discusses the shifts from old media to new media, the rise of fake news, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, the role of social media platforms, and the potential use of machine learning to combat disinformation. Embrace this informative and engaging summary to get a firm grasp on the challenges our societies face in the pursuit of truth.

Media and the Erosion of Trust

As per a Gallup survey, citizens’ trust in democratic institutions has plunged to an all-time low. This belief is widespread globally. The disappearance of trust is due to the way citizens perceive reality, thanks to a shift in media usage. Earlier, trusted news sources broadcast information, and respected journalists reinforced objectivity. In contrast, social media and citizen journalism now offer a ‘many-to-many’ model which enables all to become their publishers. Social media focuses on extreme views, making it easier to disseminate disinformation, and there is no accountability. As a consequence, people find it challenging to distinguish fact from fiction, leading to an uncertain reality and the erosion of trust.

The Profitable Business of Fake News

In 2016, a false story about Hillary Clinton spread like wildfire across social media, revealing how fake news can appeal to people’s desire to think critically. Jestin Coler, an entrepreneur from California, wrote the bogus story as a way to generate ad clicks and profit. In the lead-up to the election, Coler made between $10,000 and $30,000 a month from spreading fake news. While Coler’s motives were purely commercial, his story fed into a larger attack on the truth by spreading false reports about the election. This offensive involved bogus ads on Facebook paid for by the Russian government, as well as fake stories by groups linked to the Trump campaign. The rise of disinformation stems from a lack of vetted investigative journalism, which once answered people’s need to uncover the truth. As trusted broadcasters have faded away, the profitable business of fake news has taken hold.

The Disruptive Power of Social Media on Conspiracies

Conspiracy theories have always been around, but the advent of social media has accelerated their spread like never before. The key message is that this is due to the hands-off approach of these platforms when it comes to monitoring speech. QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory in the US, is cited as a prime example of how social media bots amplify fringe ideas. Supporters claim there is a cabal of government officials working against Donald Trump, with an anonymous patriot known as “Q” infiltrating this group. Coordinated groups of far-right activists spread these theories on bigger sites like Reddit and Twitter with the help of bots. Mainstream media then picks up these stories, further amplifying them. This corrodes democratic norms and can lead to a distrust of liberal politics. Social media companies are reluctant to curb free speech, even when it’s based on false information, and bots that push conspiracy theories go largely unchecked. This creates an environment that can be gamed by political actors and conspiracists alike.

Political Bots: The Rise of Digital Subversion

In their pursuit of manipulating political outcomes, bot armies have increasingly become a force to reckon with, but their clandestine role in shaping political discourse has remained, for the most part, underreported. A case in point: Political bots were used to devastating effect in US Senatorial elections in Massachusetts in 2010, generating enough digital noise to create a false impression of a grassroots movement. This ably demonstrates that the Russians were not the first and won’t be the last to deploy this dark art of digital subversion in political campaigns.

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