Our shared reality has become complicated. It always was complicated, but now nefarious actors have complicated it further. Defining what reality is has always been a complicated question for scientists and philosophers. Unfortunately, reality has become a serious point of contention in the United States. We will explore the shared problem with reality, why it’s a magnificently difficult problem to solve, and some proposed solutions.
A Universal Problem
Since the advent of The Internet, attacks on reality have occurred with increasing frequency. Attacks on reality are nothing new, but the sheer volume of blatant and public attacks has changed. In the 2020 election cycle in the United States, Donald Trump has pushed for an alternate reality through lies and deception. The number of people that support this alternate reality and have signed up for it is staggering. Approximately 71 million people voted for an alternate reality, and Trump is still spinning the fake news with his devoted followers’ help.
New technologies have brought deep fakes to the forefront of political discourse and have the potential to flip elections, overthrow governments, and ruin people’s lives. When I first encountered deep fakes, my first thought was how a deep fake could be used to ignite a nuclear war between the two countries. I hope anyone with nuke codes would verify evidence before pressing the big red button, but people still have fight or flight reactions, and crazy people like Trump have already been known to drop bombs on countries out of spite. It could happen, and that’s a serious problem that needs to be dealt with.
What Are The Challenges?
We use signatures and signature notarization to put a rubber stamp on reality. When someone buys a home, they sign on the dotted line in front of a notary public officer to certify that they own the home and are liable for any debts or adherence to laws related to owning a home. It protects the homeowner, the banks, the seller of the home and makes the sale official. It’s not terribly complicated, but it has proven to be an effective way to limit chaos associated with unknown events that might put responsibility into question.
We have tools for certifying reality outside of notaries like trusted news sources, fact-checkers, and Wikipedia. The integrity of those tools is constantly undermined by people who don’t like reality. Unfortunately, all of those tools are exploitable and bad faith actors have found ways to discredit every source of information used to define our historical and present reality.
The biggest challenge is that there is finding an easy way to certify the truth as well as protect ourselves from centralized truth arbitration. Centralizing fact-checking into one entity is a recipe for an Orwellian future. If appointed arbiters of truth on the Internet used their power to manipulate people en masse, we would never know we are being manipulated if that entity became corrupt.
I believe that Internet-based companies like Facebook and Twitter should not be arbiters of truth. I don’t believe Governments should be arbiters of truth either. So how can these challenges be addressed?
What’s the solution?
Sometimes the best solution is the most obvious solution. Somehow humanity has made it from the age of ancient Rome by utilizing notary public officials. We need to utilize a distributed network of eNotary public officials. For digital content to be taken seriously, it will need to have some notary signatures depending upon the importance of certifying different claims. When there are real consequences of spreading a false claim, more notary public signatures could be required. When a notary public official falsely notarizes content, there should be serious consequences that lead to banishment from future notary positions.
I know there are new challenges created by this solution. As with any solution, there are tradeoffs. Ensuring a notary public network’s integrity is challenging but less challenging than ensuring the average politician’s integrity. In the least, having an efficient network of notary public officials would add a level of narrative control leaning towards a certified reality.
Making notary public officials commonplace at news conferences, large impactful events, and other places where the truth matters would create many jobs as a side benefit.
An alternate, and less revolutionary solution, would be to impose a common claim data exchange format like Google’s Fact Check Tools API. Each news source could be legally obligated to enter their claim data into a national database. The data would then be aggregated and made openly accessible to the public to allow for public analysis of the data. Having this data available would simplify the fact-checking process and provide us with a shared reality.
Like the other solution, this solution could be corrupted if all official parties were secretly collaborating. The solution to that would be to allow a litany of news sources to contribute claims that could not possibly be directly connected.
The United States has a lot of smart people living in it. It’s time for intelligent people to devise a way to address this serious threat to our shared reality. Without a shared reality, Trumpian-style movements will continue to grow and do even more damage to our society’s integrity. We have a duty to address this social crisis as soon as possible. If we don’t act soon, society will get even more out of hand than it is, and that should keep us all up at night.