If you combine ‘Fake News’ and community, you identify a potentially new force of evil – ‘Fake Community’. Is such a thing real? How big a threat is it? What can we do about it?
4 Key Takeaways:
- As humans we evolved to share our knowledge with our community.
- Fake Community is community hijacked by populism
- Fake Community is a coalition of scam artists and the political elites
- Fake Community is real and need to act now if we are to defeat it
About Damian Costello:
Damian Costello runs Decode Innovation and specialises in Innovation in Strategy and Innovation Strategies. Damian is passionate about helping Ireland retain and grow its position in the global economy.
Damian has almost 25 years of consulting experience across global multi-nationals to local start-ups in the Medical Device, Pharma, Automotive, Financial Services and ICT sectors. He has delivered successful strategies and breakthrough solutions in Ireland, Europe, North America and Asia.
Contacting Damian Costello:
By Damian Costello,
Take the concept of Fake News and combine it with the power of community and you get a terrifying new weapon that we might call ‘Fake Community’. This is a scary thought because the power of community is deeply bedded in the human psyche. We have evolved to be social animals and as such community is one of our oldest coping mechanisms.
Everything we do, both individually and collectively, is influenced by the animal architecture that our higher brain functions are layered over. Anthropologists tell us that our big breakthrough as a species was not an improved ability to create knowledge, but a unique ability to share it. In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant shows how selfish Medical Students do better in year one of Med School than their more social, cooperative and sometimes distracted peers. By year two they are about level, and after that the ‘givers’ jump ahead, and stay ahead, of the ‘takers’. The perennial challenge for our species is how to balance individual desires with the collective needs of the group. We evolved to use communities to help us balance these sometimes-conflicting needs. What happens then, when the very thing humanity uses to counteract its most self-destructive behaviours is weaponised and used against us. Can we can handle being attacked by a subversion of community? I contend that this is exactly what is happening, and that the biggest threat to a healthy balance between individualism and the collectivism is the emergence of ‘Fake Community’.
Fake Community is what happens when community is hijacked by populism. Donald Trump calls his biggest annoyance ‘Fake News’ because news and its seemingly trivial cousin, celebrity, are his weapons of choice. But his place among the elite, and his paranoia that the forces that brought him to power will eventually turn on him, suggests that his accusation of ‘Fake’ hints at a deeper truth. He may, or may not, have been the architect of his own rise to power, but even the most feeble-minded of puppets gets a glimpse of the craft of the puppet master. Long before he called it out Fake News existed, as illustrated by the 30 years of brainwashing of our British neighbours were exposed to in their tabloid newspapers. Its irresistible power can be seen in the still inconceivable partnership of Thatcher-devastated northern towns and the ‘Thatcher didn’t go far enough’ elites of the ruling Tory Party. One workshop in a UK Car Factory, reportedly had 41 of 42 employees vote for Brexit and within a year all were on notice as the plant’s closure was announced and blamed on Brexit. Those workers were falsely convinced they were part of a community being suppressed by the EU. Fake Community in the UK convinced a majority of ordinary decent turkeys to
enthusiastically vote for Christmas. What did conventional communities do to protect those workers? What could they have done?
Fake Community is nothing new, cults and other nefarious organisations have always prayed on individuals, but their reach was counter-balanced by the other communities that
surrounded their targets. In the early twentieth century Fake Community rallied the masses and used the basest of collective motivations to take over an entire well-educated, civilised continent. We now call them ‘Fascists’ and we can hear echoes of their rhetoric in today’s trans-Atlantic politics. Back then communities would group together to defeat such evil ideologies because the threat was so credible and obvious to them. Today, Fake Community is even more dangerous because in a world of endless digital communication bad actors find it easier to act beyond the gaze of those who would traditionally resist them. Worse still, their digital nature releases Fake Community from geographical constraints. Syria under ISIS is a place that few middle-class western teenagers would enjoy in person, but digital propaganda from Syria could get English born teenagers to go there and marry strangers. This is less likely to happen in a physical community where the presence of such unsavoury characters would surely raise family suspicions much sooner.
When the digital world arrived, ordinary people augmented their communities with websites and later social media. They created new communities among like-minded people at work and at play. The lack of geographical constraint allowed enthusiasts in the most niche of interests to find people to share their passion with. Bridges of mutual respect were built across oceans. I’ll never forget a friend telling me he was bringing his 11-year-old to Manchester for a Minecraft Convention where the boy was looking to meet his best friend for the first time. People looked forward to technologies that would make their online communities almost as good as their real communities. What was missed in this naïve enthusiasm, was how this new power could be misused. People who failed in real world communities because real people could quickly see through them, realised that they could do things online that were impossible for them in the real world. To the faker, online communities were much better than their real-world alternatives and once they found fellow liars among the ranks of the political elite, a hidden but massively influential coalition was formed.
Fake Community uses the power of community to legitimise our lowest individual motivations and amplify our greatest collective excesses. If we are to re-establish a healthy balance, we will need to undermine the power of this emerging force for evil – we will need to create an equally irresistible force for good. Maybe the alternative to Fake Community is authentic community? Maybe the alternative to bad communities are good communities? Maybe the answer is something very different, but if we are to address this issue, we first must acknowledge that Fake Community is a real thing.