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Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

(Not about the Sack of Limoges, or the Hundred Years War)
conversation-with-smaug-recoloured - 300 dpi

What if I told you that the Sack of Limoges in Froissart… never happened?

Well, OK, you’d look at me blankly. After a moment you might ask, “I’ve never heard of Froissart. Where is that? French Canada?”

I’ve been reading LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by Singer and Brooking. It describes the emerging world of Internet “news” where news passes from person-to-person on social media, no source is uncontroversially trustworthy, and where both information warriors and click-bait farmers are uninterested in the truth, except as a way of making untruths more plausible.

In this world, what determines a narrative’s success is not veracity but rather: Simplicity; Resonance; and Novelty.

Just switch the arena to “rumor” and this looks awfully like a greatly accelerated version of the pre-modern — especially Medieval and Renaissance — milieus we use as inspiration for Fantasy worldbuilding.  Keep the rumor but return the tech, and it’s also a good jumping-off point for building a Space Opera future. Stay with me and I’ll explain. But first, back to the smoking ruins of Limoges.

The authors — Singer wrote a great book on robot warfare, by the way — talk about a US military training scenario that would make a good Traveller adventure: insurgents set up both a demonstration and an ambush, guaranteeing the former will get caught in the latter, the objective being to generate Internet images of an occupier-perpetrated massacre. The military response — as I recall; the index isn’t very good — is to contain or avoid the ambush. Singer and Brooking remark that this won’t do any good. The insurgents — if cynical enough — can just shoot the civilians anyway and blame the occupiers, or simply upload images from elsewhere.

And that’s what made me think of Froissart and Limoges.

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Edgar Allan Poe Wrote Fake News

Edgar Allan Poe Wrote Fake News


We’re living in the age of fake news. The Internet abounds with sites reporting child abuse rings hidden under pizzerias, skeletons of giants excavated in Israel, and cures for AIDS being suppressed by Big Pharma.

Just recently I got taken in for a minute by the reported death of Desmond Tutu shared by a Facebook friend. That story was on a plausible-looking African newspaper site. Only after I looked around the site did I realize it was the only story on it and the newspaper didn’t exist. Roll eyes. Run virus scanner.

But fake news isn’t new. In previous generations even the mainstream press regularly used it to boost sales, running outlandish stories to sell papers. Perhaps the most famous is the story in an 1890 issue of the Tombstone Epitaph about cowboys shooting down a pterodactyl, which led to the theory that it was the legendary Thunderbird and the creation of several faked photos. Other writers have created various fake stories to boost sales for their own newspapers.

One of these writers was no less a literary figure than Edgar Allan Poe.

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