Not that many years ago, common sense was all you really needed. When presented with some information you could just stop and think for a moment, and the truth would be there.
If NASA announced they’d successfully snared Mars, towed it across the galaxy, and parked it up behind the moon for colonisation on Monday morning, you would dismiss it without a second thought.
If you read that scientists had trained a moderately intelligent Labrador to pass a GCSE, you wouldn’t entertain that as a plausible news story.
If you were told that you could pay for a coffee simply by waving your phone in the general direction of a barista, it would have seemed like witchcraft.
But now, in 2017, ppffffsshhh!
Unless you are Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, or a faceless and sinister tech. company busily mining our data and selling our digital souls, I think you’ll agree that fake news is a bad thing.
But maybe real news needs to meet us half-way.
If so much real news wasn’t so implausible, we’d have no problem distinguishing the real from the fake. We’d just use common sense. But science and technology have bent our ‘real’ into such a weird shape that we can’t tell the difference anymore.
Common sense has never been less useful.
Don’t get the wrong idea – Trump, Putin, and the sinister tech. companies are still the bad guys, and their fondness of fake news is very naughty indeed – but the whole digital world is an unreality where fake and real have become relative concepts.
What we need is a cooling-off period.
We’ve all had lots of fun with the internet but, a bit like the drinking game that goes one nitrogen-cocktail too far, we’re at risk of losing our stomach lining.
We need to slow down, back up, and have a long hard think about what we’ve done.
The only sensible course of action is to switch the internet off for a year and see what happens. We’ll just let a few people who we really trust keep it ticking over – Stephen Fry, perhaps, or David Attenborough.
They can keep it well stocked with cat GIFs and keep an eye on all the virtual money, and the rest of us can all just calm down for a few months. We might find we’re happier, more optimistic, and mentally healthier.
We might decide it was all just a bad idea, and ceremonially fire the keys to the internet (I presume there’s a set of keys somewhere?) off into space in a capsule with a selection of streaming Netflix content and some porn.
A symbolic offering to the skies.
There’ll still be fake news in this post-internet world, of course, but it’ll be nicely contained like it used to be.
Let’s be honest; “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” might have been fake, but it wasn’t a threat to democracy.