The Reality Game Book Summary - The Reality Game Book explained in key points
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The Reality Game summary

Samuel Woolley

How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth

3.9 (99 ratings)
23 mins
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    The Reality Game
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    Old media helped to shore up faith in institutions; new media undermines it.

    Trust in democratic institutions is at an all-time low. A 2018 Gallup poll found that, over the last four and a half decades, the number of Americans who trust Congress plummeted from 43 to 11 percent. Confidence in banks halved, and only 38 out of 100 people say they trust religious establishments – down from 65 in the early 1970s. 

    But the problem isn't just limited to the United States. Similar trends have been registered in Brazil, in Italy, and in South Africa – countries we’ve always considered democratic. So what’s going on? Why have citizens become so distrustful of their democratic institutions? Well, it all comes down to how we use the media to understand reality. 

    The key message in this blink is: Old media helped to shore up faith in institutions; new media undermines it. 

    The internet has changed the media landscape beyond recognition. Before the digital age, information flowed in a single direction. One person spoke; many listened. Think about TV presenters or newspaper columnists – individuals who addressed thousands of listeners and readers. Respected news anchors and journalists made an effort to be objective. Before a view was aired or published, it had to be vetted. Of course, conspiracists were free to write to the New York Times, but the paper was also free to decide whether or not to publish such letters. 

    This model meant that millions of citizens received their information from the same sources. This helped build consensus on what was real and true and, as a result, created trust. 

    But in the last few years, things have changed. Information is now shared via what’s called the “many-to-many” paradigm. You no longer have to persuade anyone to print or broadcast your views. On the web, you are your own publisher – and anyone can read what you post. 

    Internet pioneers were hoping for a golden age of free speech and civic participation. But what they didn’t foresee was that the landscape would become controlled by just a few giant social media corporations, each less accountable than old-school broadcasters.

    There is little or no regulation in the world of social media, so it has become a breeding ground for disinformation. And in this murky mess of easily gamed algorithms, it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. 

    A 2018 poll in the UK, for example, found that 64 percent of Brits struggled to tell the difference between real and false news. No wonder, then, that trust is at an all-time low – in this environment, it’s often impossible to know whom to trust!

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    What is The Reality Game about?

    The Reality Game (2020) sheds light on the murky world of “computational propaganda” – political manipulation using digital tools. Samuel Woolley argues that fake news, viral conspiracy theories, and Twitter bot armies don’t just sow confusion and discord; in his view, they also subvert the democratic process. That means it’s high time we fought back and reclaimed our digital space from today’s unaccountable mega-platforms. 

    Best quote from The Reality Game

    Complex mechanisms like artificial intelligence have played little role in computational propaganda campaigns to date.

    —Samuel Woolley
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    Who should read The Reality Game?

    • Citizens worried about the future of democracy
    • Digital natives and social media addicts 
    • Skeptics wondering how to tell the difference between real and fake news

    About the Author

    Samuel Woolley is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He specializes in the study of politics, persuasion, and social media. Wooley cofounded the Computational Propaganda Project, an interdisciplinary research initiative that explores digital politics. He is also the founding director of the Digital Intelligence Lab and has written about computational propaganda for Wired, the Atlantic, Motherboard, TechCrunch, Slate, and the Guardian

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