In The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu, we heard about the cycle of technology and content and advertising that takes each new medium, and drives a race to the bottom in terms of increasing levels of commercials, and decreasing revenue, leading to worse and worse actual content, and eventually, a rapid fall off the cliff edge in terms of actual audience, who then move to the next tech - the book contains a plethora of historical examples from 19th century newspapers, through radio, on via television (see also four arguments for the elimination of television plus for the impact on actual journalism, see Flat Earth News), and finally, today, several generations of social media (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagam, TikTok...next?).
So a new factor in this is not just the very poor quality of advertising / infotainment, which is incented to lie about products, but now we have the new players heavily involved in daily spread of misinformation:- governments. Governments (especially populist ones) are one of the main sources of peacetime lies. We expected the Ministry of Information to spread propaganda during wartime, but now we have arrant nonsense distributed directly from the desks of Trump and Johnson, casting doubt on election results, undermining democratic choice during referenda, and destroying confidence in public health measures during a pandemic.
What is to be done? We need platforms that deliver a reliability metric about sources, not just fact check their individual utterances. This would move the prominence of repeat-offenders, lower and lower in every readers' feed - taking away the effectiveness of polarized clickbait.
Time for the EU to regulate?