Facebook,Twitter, you and I

We are all being manipulated I am told. Not only by people, but by social bots, the software programs that mimic human behaviour on social media.

Angela Merkel worries that fake news providers and social bots will manipulate the German election. The Washington Post seems to know that the Russians ran a huge disinformation campaign in favour of Donald Trump during the US presidential election. The Post even has the exact amount of campaign views, more than 213 million.

Others argue that some of the US election´s biggest fake news providers were actually run by domestic talent with ties to experienced  political operators. Many  of them close to Trump, but the Clinton campaign is said to have had its moments too.

Those in the know have long talked about Russia´s army of Internet trolls. Their numbers keep growing by every telling. Soon there is nothing they, or their bots, can´t do. Which may or may not be true, but it sure sounds NASTY.

According to BBC, Putin just told a nine-year-old boy that Russia´s border “doesn´t end anywhere”. He was addressing a televised awards ceremony for geography students at the time, and he dismissed the whole thing as a joke later.

But it reminded me of the fact that the information highway has no borders. Suddenly I saw in my mind these armies of small Russian trolls, marching along the Internet to the music of Justin Timberlake. It was quite a scene.

But seriously, what news sources can we trust? Where do they get their information? Take the Washington Post; I keep coming back to the “more than 213 million views”. Where did that number come from? Others are asking too. If you are really devious, you can go further. What if the number was leaked by the Russians, so that the whole story could be  discredited later? You see where this is going, don´t you? Conspiracy theories keep surfacing like mushrooms, and paranoia is knocking on our doors.

We are like the villagers in one of Aesop´s fables; or are we the sheep? Is the wolf eating the sheep as we speak? There are so many crying wolf out there that it is hard to know.

I like television debates and word by word transcripts of interviews. They may sometimes be tedious, but they allow me to see exactly what was said. Many rely on their trusted newspapers and TV channels, online and offline, in these turbulent times. I do too.

But journalists are just people, and sometimes they may feel so sure of the underlying truth of their message that they forget the importance of checking both their facts and the reliability of their sources.  And, occasionally, a truly bad apple comes along even in the best of newsrooms; in the worst ones, bad apples abound.

I have seen some prime examples of really good journalism lately, but there have been disappointments too. Facebook and Twitter may be fun to quote, and venting your feelings publicly is always therapeutic, which is why I blog, but serious journalism takes serious work. Please keep up the good work all you serious journalists out there. My sanity depends on it.

Speaking of less reliable news sources, RT, formerly Russia Today, has taken an interest in the French election. According to RT, Marine Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate, said that her joining forces with Putin and Trump as France´s leader would be “good for world peace”. Her opponent, Francois Fillon seems to have exactly the same idea, with himself as France´s leader naturally.

Many of the changes we see in the political environment in Europe today are being attributed to populism. The message that protectionism is not a long term solution for any economy is not as easy to sell as the “close your doors and hope for the best” agenda. Basically it is all about addressing fears and insecurities. Or stirring them. Am I wrong, or is someone singing Trolls´tunes out there? And pushing for an EU referendum in France, among other things?

There is no need to go into the matter of Italy today, but seriously, what is it with guys like Cameron and Renzi and their referendums? Do they just love to live dangerously?