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Randomly Surfing the Web Is No Way to Educate Yourself

Noam Chomsky: Randomly Surfing the Web Is No Way to Educate Yourself; Internet Is a 'Cult Generator'

By Alexandra Rosenmann / AlterNet

A fact here, a fact there, and "all of a sudden you have some crazed picture."

December 20, 2016

Fake news has been around long before Facebook, but it was the tech company's goal to appear like a newspaper that eventually misled its users far more than ever before.

"Technology is basically neutral," author Noam Chomsky explained. "It's kinda like a hammer...the hammer doesn't care whether you use it to build a house or a torturer uses it to crush somebody's skull... same with modern technology [like] the internet. The internet is extremely valuable if you know what you're looking for."

Unfortunately, that's almost the antithesis of Facebook. And while Paper, the ad-free Facebook news feed app ultimately failed, the social media network had by then successfully developed tools like Smart Publishing. The latter tool for publishers aimed to boost stories on Facebook that were popular with the user's own network, amplifying the performance of fake news in a scandal-obsessed hyperpartisan era. But until five weeks after the election, there was little distinction on the platform between "news" published by conspiracy theorists and actual trusted news sources.

"If you don't have [an idea what you're looking for], exploring the internet is just picking out random factoids that don't mean anything," Chomsky stated. Without a specific strategy, he believes the internet is far more likely to be harmful than helpful.

"Random exploration through the internet turns out to be a cult generator," Chomsky concluded. "Pick up the factoid here, a factoid there, somebody else reinforces it, and all of a sudden you have some crazed picture which has some factual basis, but nothing to do with the world. You have to know how to evaluate, interpret and understand."

Despite having initially denied that hoaxes on Facebook influenced the presidential election, Facebook did begin flagging articles users identified as fake news in mid-December.

Facebook isn't the only tech company faced with the onslaught of fake news; Google's top stories are often totally illegitimate.

Chomsky doesn't like Facebook for many reasons; however, he does use the internet for research.

Then there's Donald Trump, who in May, after sharing a fake video to claim a protester's non-existent ties to ISIS, said, "All I know is what's on the internet."

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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