Sometime in the mid-1990s I discovered the difference between a premise and a plot.

The premise of the brilliant science fiction novel I planned to write was that what we now call augmented reality glasses had become popular, and cybervandals figured out how to plant what we now might call real-time deep fakes onto them.

In the first chapter an innocuous accounting clerk, having breakfast in a diner, is killed by an augmented-glasses-wearing vigilante who sees, via deep fake, the clerk pulling out a Glock, preparing to shoot everyone in the diner. A wave of similar crimes ensues.

The novel’s protagonists – Detectives Frederick Baltimore and Richmond Alexandria (named after two highway signs near Tyson’s Corner, VA, which at the time I thought was clever) – were charged with figuring out what was going on.

This was the premise, but at best all I had was the barest sketch of a plot.

Welcome to Meta, nee facebook, which wants us all to spend most of our lives in its “meta-verse.” It owns Oculus, the world’s most popular VR platform, along with most of the world’s social media audiences. And, it stands accused of not caring in the slightest whether the “information” it distributes to its audience bears any resemblance to actual reality.

Maybe it’s time for me to dust off the premise.

I’m also thinking it’s time for the world’s reputable fact-checking services to incorporate machine-learning AIs into their methodologies in order to scale their work to keep up with Meta’s reality-neutral content dissemination.

But mostly I’m thinking it’s time to make Frederick Pohl’s classic The Age of the Pussyfoot required reading for policymakers concerned with the various gaps we have in our society.

I don’t mean to minimize the significance of the wealth, income, and education gaps that are matters of immediate and serious concern.

But if Mark Zuckerberg succeeds in making his vision real, most people will spend most of their lives in a world that excludes the poor and disadvantaged from the augmented capabilities most of us will have at our disposal.

Call it the reality gap, and its leading edge is already upon us.

I’m not meaning to demonize either Zuckerberg or Meta (assuming the two are separable), or even Kellyanne Conway and her reality-gapped world of alternative facts. The leading edge has nothing to do with any of them.

The leading edge is the smartphone – the portable gateway to all the capabilities the Internet makes available. Those who can afford them are better communicators, more knowledgeable, and have superior access to potentially life-saving resources than those who can’t.

Awhile back I suggested the technique of asking questions backward, using as an example asking what the privileges of wealth should be rather than what our obligations to the poor are.

It isn’t too early to ask whether affluence should be allowed to become the prerequisite to participating in a society that’s increasingly virtual.

The Buried Lede: It’s also worth asking whether corporate information security departments have a role to play in all this. After all, most intrusions these days are the result of phishing attacks and related forms of social engineering. And phishing attacks are a form of disinformation.

On top of which, employees routinely use Google or facebook to look for information they need about one thing or another, which means the quality of day-to-day business decisions is affected by if and how well the organizations they work in are able to protect them from the misinformation, disinformation, and outright falsification they’re exposed to.

Sounds like an information security responsibility to me. Or else we need a new C-suite member – the Chief Reality Officer.

Bob’s last word: We have a word … malware … to cover all the various forms of attack bad actors make use of. We need but don’t have a single word that covers all the various forms of deceptive content.

I propose we call it malinfo. Use it three times and it will become part of your day-to-day vocabulary.

Bob’s sales pitch: My “IT 101” series continues on CIO.com with publication of the third and last article about technical architecture – “The secret art of technical architecture improvement.”

In case you missed them, the first two were, “Technical architecture: What IT does for a living,” and “Evaluating technical architecture: 11 key criteria and how to apply them.” I think you’ll find them both practical and useful. Whether or not you do, please let me know what you think of them.

Back in computing pre-history, Apple (Computer) claimed ownership of the Satanic fruit that got us humans tossed out of paradise 6+ millennia ago. Trendiness wasn’t part of the plan.

In the 1990s, Microsoft claimed ownership of the architectural element that lets the sun shine in while keeping the bad weather out. Trendiness wasn’t part of its plan either.

Which brings us to Meta, facebook’s 180 degree out-of-phase attempt at trendiness.

Here at IS Survivor Publishing we take trendiness seriously. We also take nonsensical half-donkeyed (figure it out) outrage-factory-driven commentary seriously.

“Meta” is slang for ironic self-awareness, which I guess would make it trendy, except that if Mark Zuckerberg is capable of ironic self-awareness he’s kept it well-hidden.

If corporations have personality traits, few would accuse Meta, nee facebook, of ironic self-awareness either. “Meta” is like someone past their prime saying “I’m hip! Trust me! I’m still hip!”

Then there’s the infinity half of Meta’s logo. There is a certain disturbing honesty to it, implying as it does that with the name change Zuckerberg is claiming ownership of everything in the virtual universe.

Which would be less disconcerting if his vision … that we’ll all spend most of our lives in his “metaverse” … weren’t so troublingly reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s masterpiece, The Naked Sun.

The name change to Meta is the former facebook’s response to the outrage over how it’s fanned the flames of misinformation and disinformation by knowingly spreading it to those most likely to (1) believe conspiracy theories so inane they make flat-earther-enthusiasm seem sane by comparison; (2) read and like (sorry, “Like”) the next conspiracy theory to reach their inboxes, and (3) be so inflamed by these conspiracy theories that they’ll take action on them, with “action” running the gamut from voting for lunatics to invading Congress.

Regular readers here will know I’ve been railing against intellectual relativism in all its forms for more than 15 years now (“Political Science,” 10/3/2005) and the ease with which the Internet can be subverted to spread misinformation starting 10 years before that, in the World Wide Web’s earliest days (“Trusted Information Providers,” 3/17/1997). So I have little sympathy for facebook as it attempts to deal with all the criticism.

But I think the criticism mostly misses the root cause.

One complaint is that facebook was motivated by a desire to maximize profits using all legal means at its disposal.

In the wise words of Mom, “What if everyone did that?”

Oh, wait. That’s what every corporation is supposed to do. Some do more harm than others, and where many pollute the physical world, facebook pollutes the virtual.

But where critics have completely missed the mark is the complaint about facebook being (allegedly) most likely to recommend the most inflammatory posts to those most likely to Like them.

Assume for a moment that facebook is guilty as charged. What it’s guilty of isn’t deliberately spreading misinformation and disinformation to the gullible. It’s guilty of a practice successful retailers have engaged in since retailing supplanted bartering all those millennia ago: cross-selling.

Amazon suggests that if you read Book A you’re likely to enjoy Book B. facebook, in contrast, suggests that if you believe in Jewish space lasers and Like reading posts about them, you’re also likely to believe the entire universe and all of your memories were created last Thursday.

What facebook and Amazon are doing is equivalent.

Except, of course, that in Amazon’s product and service space cross-selling is, if annoying, harmless. In facebook’s marketplace it’s toxic.

Bob’s last word: In 1990 Republicans proposed a superior approach to environmental regulation. They called it cap-and-trade. How it worked: To reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions that were causing acid rain, polluters could, instead of reducing their own emissions, buy pollution credits from another company that already had.

It worked and worked well.

And so I propose Congress pass the Keep the Joint Running Toxic Meme Reduction Act. It would set an overall industry cap on the number of toxic memes that can be posted on social media. When that limit has been reached, any entity that hasn’t yet posted its share could trade them to another that wants to post another toxic meme of its own.

Write your elected officials.

Bob’s sales pitch: The Archives are back!

Okay, that probably didn’t warrant an exclamation point, especially as Search never went away. With both now working you now have full access (at no additional charge) to 26 years of Keep the Joint Running and its InfoWorld-published predecessor, the “IS Survival Guide.”

There’s good stuff in there, most of it still relevant today.