Learning the news: Learning to live in fake news era

Is it up to technology companies to wage war on ‘fake news’ or is it up to individuals? asks Roger Plothow.

Apple CEO Tim Cook thinks it’s time that his industry started doing something about fake news.


He tells The Telegraph newspaper that he wants authorities and technology companies to wage a crackdown on fake news, which is “destroying people’s minds.”

He helped create the world’s most efficient communication network and he didn’t see this coming? Where has he been while a handful of brave souls like former Post Register Editor Dean Miller and former TV journalist Howard Baker have been trying to educate as many people as they could find about news and media literacy?

I don’t know who Cook means by “authorities,” but if he means the government that’s a terrible idea. And technology companies are particularly ill-suited to solve the problem that their technology has set loose. Godzilla is free, and we can’t kill it. We need to teach people how to live with it.

Cook certainly means well, but he’s thinking like someone who believes that technology can fix anything. It can’t, and in this case it’s clearly part of the problem.

Remember those guys Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman who did the Mythbusters cable TV show for years? It was one of my favorite shows, and not just because they got to blow things up. They’re off to other pursuits now, but in a brief video segment they wondered out loud about the dangers of technology.

Savage said this: “I guess I would hazard a prediction that the things that are going to bite us are the things that we’ve gotten used to. Not some new, game-changing technology that just appears and all of a sudden the world blows up or something. It’s going to be something where we let our guard down. You know, along with great freedom and access to information is a double-edged sword if it’s not handled right.”

I don’t know whether he would see the fake news phenomenon as evidence of his concern, but I think he might. What he also might have said is that along with great freedom and access to information comes great personal responsibility.

This has always been true of any new or emerging technology, from nuclear power to irrigating the West. Marc Reisner’s warnings about the dangers associated with irrigating the deserts of the Western U.S. in his book, “Cadillac Desert,” ring more true now than when it was written 31 years ago. Water has made possible a bounty unimaginable by the first white settlers to our dry land. Without great care, however, issues relating to water in a dry land are a powder keg in search of a match.

Left unchecked, the inability to properly use and interpret the information that now virtually surrounds us 24/7 also has dire consequences, and only personal responsibility, education and great effort can save us from those.

Plothow is editor and publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a yearlong weekly series on news and media literacy.