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Hayley Romer, the Senior Vice President at The Atlantic, spoke about the issue of fake news in a speech entitled “The Importance of Questioning Answers” at the Dublin Tech Summit this week.
“I’m not sure if this is something that was hardwired into me since birth,” Romer began, “or it’s something that I’ve grown overly accustomed to since joining The Atlantic five years ago, but regardless I definitely describe myself as somebody who relentlessly questions answers. And I think I do that for a couple of reasons. First of all, for me, it’s the only way to really make sense of things, but the other reason is because it’s the only way to get to the truth, right?”
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“Thinking about coming here today, I felt like this notion of something that’s absolutely transcending our society in so many ways, and I thought this would be a great place to talk about how we got there and why we need to now, more than ever, be questioning our answers.” Romer discussed the perils of only viewing information that validates your current worldview and the issues that arise when living in a bubble, whether it be related to politics, news, or social issues.
“Let’s say for a second I understood what your political views were and I were to only send you things that validate that view, or I say, ‘I understand that you believe in this, I’m just gonna keep sending you things that validate your opinion.’ Is that a good thing? I’m not sure,” she said. “I think that assumption is one that sort of lies on the edge of something worth debating, hence the nature of this conversations. Let’s take a step back and look at the news. It used to be that every night in order to get the news, you had one trusted voice come into your home. You’d turn on your TV, you’d sit down at the end of the day, and somebody would show up and tell you everything that you needed to know, and you believed what they said.”
“Once cable news came around, you had choices, you had more ways to gain access to information, you didn’t necessarily have to listen to things so broadly, and you had the opportunity at that point through cable news to gain access to different opinions, different perspectives, different sets of news information, if you will,” she continued.
“But then came the Internet where everyone had a voice, and the thing about the Internet was that it was going to be the total democratization of all humanity,” Romer stated. “We would create a global free open exchange of ideas. Everyone had access to everything, and this was going to be the ultimate dream because you no longer had to wait for someone to come into your home at a certain time of day.”
“But reality, as we know, is much more complicated than that,” she said. “Everyone flocked to the Internet a lot faster than we could have predicted, which left us saying, ‘What do we do now, how do we figure this out?’ Pretty soon we were overwhelmed with information of course.”
Romer discussed the competition between content providers to produce valuable content and attract a new and massively growing marketplace of users. This lead to a new industry of content and advertising, encouraging competition between websites to attract more users and deliver more ads, increasing revenue. The Internet, according to Romey, allowed content developers to understand what their audience wanted to hear and see and provide that to them, encouraging them to return to their website.