There are many problems we face as humanity these days. The climate crisis for example. Today I want to discuss a problems which really has been an underlying problem for all other problems. Fake news. It’s a scary one. It can change people’s view on the world. That the climate crisis is a hoax. That COVID-19 is a hoax. Distrust is its business. This problem is massive and may seem overwhelming. But in my personal journey I am learning more and more about what I can do to tackle it. Today I want to discuss fake news and my first personal step to tackle it: using Signal instead of Whatsapp.
Jeez, this subject really scares me. I’ve seen it evolve over the years. I’ve lost friends over this. I’ll tell you what I know about fake news. Somehow, it’s always a far-right message. Mostly conspiracy theories. About how Bill Gates has made COVID-19 himself. It’s just crazy. And it’s dangerous. In this case human health is in danger. The main thing fake news does is cause distrust. People don’t trust experts anymore, they don’t trust government anymore, they don’t trust the traditional media anymore, they distrust basically everyone. And since all of this is based on hoaxes and conspiracies, there’s no way to debate these people. People who believe fake news stories can’t be bothered by facts. I mean, a fact is a fact. There simply is no way to debate it. However, these people do debate it. They say it’s not a fact, they say it’s a hoax. You can give them any source of facts and they’ll distrust is. It’s like they have given up on basic science. It scares the sh*t out of me.
As I said, believers of fake news distrust traditional media. Take for example the Netherlands. There are actual laws to make the traditional media like newspapers and television shows democratic. They can’t just straight out lie or spread information which isn’t true. And still the fake news believers can’t be debated. They’ll they say that government is corrupt and that this is one big hoax as well. As I said, they can’t be debated. Any fact is just always a hoax. However, they do trust social media. They do trust sketchy websites and Facebook posts. About how we civilians are fooled. But the bottom line is: social media is not regulated at all. I can say anything I want on there. There are no laws for fact checking or anything (like there are in traditional media). And still, people favor social media. Because it plays with their emotions. It blames minorities, like refugees, for their problems. It angers people. And so they stick to the hoaxes and conspiracy theories.
The consequences are really scare. Look at how Donald Trump won the elections in 2016. Look at how people these days think that COVID-19 is a hoax. Look at pizza gate. Look at the growth or the far-right. People are blindly following people who in no way prove facts. They make up their own ‘facts’. Things we know about how to look at information is totally messed up.
Who to Blame?
Sure, there have always been groups of people convincing the public of their alternative views. However, the group of believers of that fake news is now becoming bigger than ever it seems. I believe social media is the source of that problem. The platforms make money from fake news. When you start up Youtube and you click at a certain video, you get into a loop hole. Youtube shows you more radical videos in your ‘recommended videos ‘ section, each time more radical than the previous one you watched. Why? They don’t give a damn about the message in that video. They want to keep you watching. That way they’ll make more money from advertisements. Same goes with Facebook and Instagram, they want you to keep scrolling. The more time you spend on their platforms, the better. And so, they want to keep you interested by recommending extreme videos and posts.
We give these social media corporations way too much power. Facebook is one of the richest companies in the world. Every time they’ve done something horribly wrong, they’re barely corrected. And along with this problem of the fake news loops people are attracted too, they don’t give a damn about the privacy of their users either. Facebook sells big data and we give it to them for free. This makes them so powerful and that’s dangerous. Not one party should have that much power. Why do we make these companies so powerful when there are alternatives around?
Signal instead of Whatsapp
I know it’s best to give up Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram (all owned by Facebook inc.) all together. But that’s too big of a step for me right now. I don’t have all the alternatives (yet!). I want to stay connected to friends but I just don’t want companies to invade my privacy and even more important: I don’t want them to influence us anymore. I don’t want them to set the algorithms. I don’t want to show me fake news or advertisements. I just don’t want a company who’s only aim is to make money to control my interactions. I am looking for alternatives. And for one of Facebook’s companies I have found a great alternative: Signal.
Signal, unlike Whatsapp which sends all your data to Facebook, is an independent company supported by the Signal Foundation. They’re built as an alternative for people who value their privacy. Privacy is their main concern and they’re not here to make money. It’s funded entirely by grants and donations. No-one is making money from your data. That’s because they don’t store your data. No-one can read your messages, no-one. There are no adds, no affiliate links, nothing. Signal also uses a two-step verifications so that no-one can get into the app when they take your phone. Also, Signal is completely open source. This simply means that anyone who wants to, can look behind the screens and see what Signal is doing. But maybe even most important: it’s recommended by journalists and experts in the field. I mean, I have done my own research, but these are the experts.
The only disadvantage there is, is that most people don’t use Signal yet. I can be on the app, but if none of my contacts are, then it’s useless. I have about 3 people in my close family and friend group who use Signal. The key now is to have more people downloading it. I am actively asking people to join but it’s hard. However, I am trying and it’s a start!
Do you use Signal? (And if you’re one of my close friends or family, please download it!)