The creation of the Internet promised a society where the old forms of political control might somehow become obsolete. Beginning in the 1970s computer utopians believed that if humans became linked by cyber networks then they could create a more democratic system. And for a brief period it actually appeared that there might be a chance to create order in society without central control. This was a revolutionary idea. Because it ran contrary to the mainstream political thought that if individuals were given too much control then there would be anarchy.
When Microsoft sold forty million copies of Windows 95 in the first year alone Bill Gates put Internet Explorer on personal computers everywhere. This lead to the first uptick in online citizen journalism. It was meant to be better than old journalism. The collection, dissemination, and analysis of information by the general public over the web was the way of the future. But there were unforeseen outcomes. Everyone on the Internet is a citizen. But not everyone on Internet should be a citizen journalist.
Fast forward two decades and fake news is everywhere. Free flowing information spreads through the digital ecosystem like cancer in a body, mutating into whatever shape necessary as to be shared and reposted again and again. Spreading false rumours to gain advantage, out of malice, or just for entertainment is old. But incorrect information now pollutes political discourse at levels never really anticipated. The fact that the Internet made all this possible is a dystopian realisation.
Dystopian movies tend to do well at the box office. For some reason audiences have always liked to imagine society's decline. While these stories are set in the future but they are always a product of their era. One of the best is RoboCop, released in 1987 two years before the Internet was invented by Tim Berners-Lee. Easily dismissed by critics because the title sounds silly, people assumed that it was just another low budget science fiction horror. With the passage of time however it can also be appreciated as a satire of Ronald Reagan's America. Written by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner the script is simultaneously tight and layered. And Paul Verhoeven's visceral direction makes you feel yucky. It is noteworthy that he is from the Netherlands as foreigners sometime critique America better, approaching it anthropologically.
Right now social media has become like the downtown district in a dystopian 80s blockbuster, a place filled with fear and anger, where moral contracts and politeness have failed and everything is ruled by desperate capitalism. In RoboCop society has become so bad that an incorruptible man-machine is created in order to save everyone. In order to clean up Detroit the RoboCop goes on a rampage, murdering everyone from laneway muggers up to glass tower corporate criminals. In a strange way, it is a feel good movie. While we might live in a world that is out of control we can (in this fictional version) also create a device that puts things back in order. The story plays subconsciously to the notion that although authority is scary it's also comforting as it can protect from evil. But there is no RoboCop coming to police the fake news in our social media feeds. There is only us. And we cannot stop refreshing.