As we wrestle with an increasingly muddied information environment, the world of big data seems to be less and less the hero of a logical, empirically based, world and more like the harbinger of a descent into irrationality. The popular discourse has been cast asunder by the introduction of fake news and questionable sources — leaving a disdainful shadow over the use of facts. Our obsession with citing sources has pushed those on the losing side of the value table to craft passing sources to edge out victories throughout the popular discourse.
I don't deign to have the answer to which sources are appropriate and which are not. So for the sake of this discussion, the sources to which I will describe are defined as "good" and "bad". By defining the sources in this manner I hope to critically look at the impact on the introduction of "bad" sources on "good" sources without getting bogged down arguing over the quality of specific sources. In reality, the sources themselves are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Sources are on a spectrum of good and bad which contributes to the assertion of those defending 'bad' sources. Instinctively we insulate ourselves from the potential of falling victim to bad sources by assuming that all "facts" presented by a source have a potential to be "bad" if previous "facts" can be demonstrated as "bad".
We have made tools to try and correct this pattern of source depreciation but even those tools are subject to the scrutiny of our pessimistic view of information. So-called fact checking websites are in themselves subject to the depreciation of their reputation by mere association with the sources they themselves scrutinize. If a participant in the public discourse notices a rating that does not match up with their internal rating of the sources in question, they reject the entity outright for its facilitation of 'bad facts'. Everyone's opinion is just that, an opinion, which has been bullied down in value as a side effect of the big data age.
Social media has acted as a catalyst for this destructive and retrograde form of argumentation because it takes less time to quote a bad source than it does to quote a good source and also attack the veracity of the bad source. In the age of social media, the majority of public discourse happens in these platforms that demand terse comments. The cultural and physical limitations on argumentation in these arenas have, in my opinion, contributed to the degradation of the public discourse. This degradation has been maximized by the widespread reach of the platforms. Social media captivates the attention of entire populations. Conflict is unlikely on these platforms because if you simply passively participate you won't ever be met with an opposing view.
The platforms themselves insulate you from challenges to your opinion. When a challenger pops up, it seems bizarre and out place. Who could possibly hold that belief? How could one be so clearly misguided when all of this information around us is pointing you in the opposite direction? This is, in itself, a commonly held myth of social media. I don't mean a myth in the sense that it is decidedly untrue, rather that this claim is widely held and supported by every side of the discourse as a reality of the modern age without the need to be supported by anything. Everyone believes that the other side is the way they are because they are wrapped up in self-affirming loops. This phenomenon is commonly discussed as if it is the cause of the demise of our discourse ,when in reality, it is a symptom. As facts have been catapulted into a position of godlike status among opinions, the discourse has shifted away from discussing values and beliefs and onto the firing and reloading of empirical sorties. This is not to say that opinions should supersede the position of facts. Only to say that lazily dismissing value structures and opinions on the notion of empirical supremacy landed us in this swamp of fake news and opened the door to a nihilistic descent. Bad sources act as poison to good sources. As a matter of academic skepticism, we air on the side of caution when it comes to sources. If a source has even been challenged to be untrue, then it's veracity is unclear even to stout defenders of said source.
We keep chasing after the ultimate source that is unchallengeable and unquestionable so that we won't have to do the work of discourse. So we drop sources that have developed a rust of negative opinion because we don't want our personal opinion to be degraded as a result. We have tied our opinion to the quality of our sources and we do the same with our discursive adversaries. The introduction of bad sources coupled with the dynamism of social media has slandered the entire body of pop-discourse with an increasing skepticism. Social media outlets now seek to reign in the advance of fake news but this will not be enough to save our discourse. The damage has already been done to the majority of our oft-cited sources. Once a source's veracity has been challenged it has an uphill battle to regain the trust of the popular discourse. Unfortunately, not all of these sources are black and white and cannot be swiftly picked from the world of information. They come in a spectrum which buttresses them against attacks on their culpability.
The spectrum of sources is the silver bullet for those defending "bad facts" and the Achilles heel of the desperate defenders of "good" facts. Because even the theoretical "good" sources have the potential to make mistakes and to retain a bias that comes off as mendacious. This spectrum allows "bad" sources to call into question "good" facts by asserting that "good" sources are deceiving and may simply just be good at hiding their lies. This is an infuriating argument because it cannot be disproven by empirical means — it must be met on the battlefield of value. It is a call to the rejection of empiricism and for a discursive rematch on the value of the proposition. If the challenge is not accepted and the defender of "good" sources continues to try and fire source after source they have already lost. The theoretical "bad-source-defender” need only to use this sortie of empiricism as evidence that their adversary is losing. "It is clear that you don't know what you are talking about because you continue to bring up those questionable sources. You are obviously misled by the deception of those questionable sources." Yet this is directed at the defender of "good" sources? Isn't he/she supposed to be able to access that assertion? Not when all sources have been called into question. It is an effective stalemate in the discourse which will always be a win for the "bad" sources because the tie will always go towards disbelief in the challenged source.
Rather than continue to try and fight the discourse on an empirical level the discourse must be moved to a plane where the values can be discussed. This plane of discourse can be more challenging to navigate. I believe that it is this complexity that leads our public discourse to pursue a divination for empiricism in order to supersede the need for value discussion. We looked for an easy way out of deciding what and how we should be as a collective humanity and in that pursuit of an easy way we damaged the very value of empiricism.
What we need is a call for humility in the modern discourse and a renaissance of opinion. Good facts are the antibiotics of popular discourse and bad facts are the superbugs. We must not surrender our ability to challenge assertions on the merits of the assertion itself for the ability to banish it with the weight of factual evidence. Discourse should be a progression that moves from the world of opinion and into the world of empirics. Skipping this progression has given way to bad facts challenging the best of opinions. We must not rely too heavily on the construction of our values on the might empiricism. In a different world, we would simply base all of our values on disprovable empirics. Yet our empirics are not and may never be that strong. In order to foster progress, we must steel our ability to defend our values on the table of value discussion alone. Empirics won't go away they will simply get some much-needed rest from their abuse at the hands of ingenious actors. Reject the notion that you can simply convince somebody by means of "fact" alone for there is a class of people who have decided against the value of empiricism. If we continue to fight this discourse on the empirical plane we open up the gateway for a descent into nihilism from which we may never recover.