Overcoming Fake News – Welcome To the Reputation Age (3 min read)

From the Establishment Age to the Information Age

Fake news, social media manipulation, government propaganda – the list goes on, so who do we now trust to understand the “truth”. In the old days, it was enough that it came from a reputable organisation like a top university (say Harvard or Cambridge), government body (say the FDA or UN) or large media company (say the BBC or NY Times). The internet and perhaps more importantly the social media era disrupted that. The public had access to as much information as these organisations and their experts. It could also be interpreted and distributed without these organisations. To give some semblance of order, social media platforms provided a kind of assurance that the information and opinions you received were credible, while in other cases, the wisdom of the crowds through user reviews was assumed to as good as expert reviews.

The Demise Of the Information Age

That era appears to be ending. The public is learning that they can manipulated by social media platforms – just watch the latest news around Facebook. Even user reviews are being gamed. Movie nerds will know that the early IMDB user review score of “The Black Panther” was a dire 6.7 –we later learned this was due to trolls and hate groups trying to sabotage the movie. It didn’t work as the movie is on the verge of becoming the top-grossing superhero movie in the US ever (overtaking “The Avengers”) and it’s user review score has rebounded to 7.8. But we are unlikely to revert back to trusting the “establishment” organisations’ experts mentioned above. They are viewed to have been responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, the 2010-2012 European sovereign crisis, growing income inequality and large migrations of populations.

The Rise Of the Reputation Age

The most likely path now is for the emergence of individuals to decipher the signal from the noise. So it is less about organisations and more about the “expert”. Even more than that, the new experts need not be attached to a brand-name organisation. Instead, their reputation is made through regular and direct interaction with the public using the internet and social media. A recent example of this is the phenomenol rise of the academic Jordan Peterson.

Peterson was a little known Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto until 2016 when he started to post a series of videos on YouTube critiquing political correctness. Then more recently he gave a combative interview on Channel 4 news, which went viral. His accompanying book – 12 Rules of Life has become a bestseller and he now has over 500, 000 Twitter followers. Another example is Tyler Cowen, whose blog has allowed him to gain a profile that wouldn’t otherwise have been warranted by his academic credentials. He’s viewed as one of the world’s leading thinkers.

The upshot is that we seem to be entering an era where the reputation of individuals, rather than a social media platform or “brand-name” organisation, will be the source of authority. Welcome to the reputation age.