I believe you; I believe you not


WARNING: Readers are hereby informed that the Corona virus is neither the topic of this post, nor is it mentioned in any context. We kindly ask for your understanding.

It seems that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has decided to start every new year as a global media sensation. Last January he announced that he will substantially reward a hundred, randomly picked individuals who retweet his tweet, with the intention to create the most retweeted tweet in history. We have covered his historic success story on this blog, in one of our previous pots.

Following the most-retweeted-post accolade, Maezawa has had a pretty tumultuous year. The 44-year-old successful businessman and a father of two from a previous marriage, has split from his long-term Japanese model/actress girlfriend Ayame Gôriki. In September he decided to step down as the CEO of Zozo that he still co-owns after selling 50% of the company to a Japanese branch of the global tech giant Yahoo, earning 2 billion USD from that transaction only.

And then, the social media saw an open call for choosing Maezawa’s new partner, The call specified that one lucky winner will not only become his life partner but also share a joint trip to the Moon and back in the Starship space vessel – followed on board by a group of artists who would record the voyage to space as a one-of-a-kind art installation.

At the end of January 2020, Maezawa took to Twitter to announce his regretful decision to give up on the project. The tweet also contained an apology to the Japanese TV station Abema, which agreed to film the special program dedicated to the selection of Maezawa’s future partner and to all the candidates who applied to take part in the contest. The number of women who applied to take part was 27,722. Let me reiterate this: twenty thousand seven hundred and twenty-two women answered Maezawa’s call. Still a long way to go my dear Tinder?

And now for something completely different.

This February, the world received news that the convicted war-crime veteran Ratko Mladić died in prison. The news was published through a Twitter account of Biserka Turković, the acting minister of foreign affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. News outlets started spreading the information regionally and world-wide, with the citation that the news was even confirmed by Mr. Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, the president of the International Court of Justice, as per the tweet in question. 

Soon after, Ms Turković publicly denied originating such news, confirming that the said Twitter account doesn’t even belong to her and reinstating that news of Mladić’s death are fake. It was discovered some time later that the news was aired by a journalist and lecturer from Italy, Tomasso Debendetti who created the fake account of the Bosnian foreign minister. 

We also discovered that this isn’t the first time Debendetti created such a hoax, and that his professional fake-news career started in 2000 when he published a false interview with author Gore Vidal in the French weekly newspaper L’Espresso. This was followed by fake interviews with American writers Phillip Roth and John Grisham and allegedly Umberto Eco, as well as interviews with Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope Benedict XVI and Dalai Lama. Many believe that the list of fake interviews is significantly longer, but not all have been hunted down as hoaxes. 

Ratko Mladić is also not the first person to be fake-buried alive by Debendetti. Namely, he announced the “death” of Canadian Nobel prize-winning author Alice Munro, her colleague J. K. Rowling as well as the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar and even Cuban president Fidel Castro, prior to his actual passing.

Debendetti also impersonated a number of actual, living people. He posed as the president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai on Twitter, Syrian president Bashar al Assad whom he later improperly declared as dead causing, among other things, oil price changes on the global market. 

Thanks to his achievements, Debendetti has become a celebrity in his own name. New Yorker magazine ran a story on him in 2010, while he elaborated on the secret of his success for Italian paper La Repubblica stating: “Today you can pretend to be Roth or Eco, just like I did. And they believed it, because the boundaries between what is true and what’s fiction have been erased.”

There is little doubt that Debendetti will continue fabricating fake news. What is more, he is probably the first creator of fake news that took it as a career becoming globally famous, while not hiding that the news presented are anything but false. He will serve as an inspiration for others, in the future, so congratulations are in order!

These two bizarre and unrelated stories from the beginning of 2020 are just additional examples of radical shifts in the media space we live in and can be singled out as two models for adequate attention garnering and content distribution in the present media world.  

Characters like Maezawa and Debendetti are not the first of their kind. To seek attention at all costs has become an insatiable need for many. The world of a limited number of media channels that is part of our past, was an obstacle to easily satisfy the need for attention and popularity. Smartphones that have become glued to our hands are an inseparable part of our everyday life, turning each and every one of us into a media channel, eradicating the previously mentioned technical obstacle. Nonetheless, there is a new problem on the horizon. The media noise we are creating and that surrounds us essentially blocks us from communicating with the world efficiently how amazing, wonderful and smart we are. Snatching attention was never harder than it is today.

So, what’s the solution? We need to create content that contains a VIRUS (you know what I am talking about) that is so viral and contagious that it can spread globally in a very short period of time. For that to happen, content needs to contain some of the following elements: unbelievable, impossible, unheard of, breaking, first time, never seen before, completely crazy, OMG, don’t miss this etc. Is the content false or true? Who cares! Afterall, the truth for the majority of people has become a choice of what they want to believe, not what the facts truly show. 

Decisions are also subject to change. Once you intentionally or subconsciously decide what you want to believe in, the truth becomes a relative thing. Is it then truly an issue that politicians will be caught saying one thing today and the complete opposite the day after, when the citizens and voters will equally believe the information every time? All that matters is that in the beginning you start with what they want to believe in. Then you can say whatever you want, as they are already locked in their faith. A simple recipe for success. 

When this is the state of affairs, is there a difference between an actual interview that a real person gave for a newspaper and a published, conjured Q&A session coming from the mind of a fake-news expert Debendetti? 

If Maezawa decides to reopen the call for his life partner, promising a trip to Mars, aside from the one to the Moon and back, will the call remain with zero applicants because the previous one was a con, or will over 30,000 women apply this time around, creating a social media storm with news outlets competing to be the first to publish the sensational story?

It seems nothing changed substantially. Once you decide what you want to believe in, it is smooth sailing from there on. The salvation is in the faith.


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