News Genius is an attempt to catalyze this growing body of self-aware mistrust of the media and government into a tool that anyone can use to turn their impressions into consensus-approved truth. As with The Onion and The Daily Show, this creates an audience satisfied with cataloging hypocrisies and unspoken implications but not necessarily prepared to do anything about them.
In a way, the breakout success of Rap Genius was only possible because of rap's failure to transform its anthems of outlaw bravado and militancy into anything that could legitimately take down the authoritative institutions it wanted to antagonize. The police weren't weakened by N.W.A and Ice-T. Jay-Z and 50 Cent found it easy to trade drug deals for CEO status. Everyone's a critic of the economy until an investment banker wants to put you at the head of the table in a boardroom.
Taken as a movement of socio-political rebellion, rap was no less prone to doublespeak and hypocrisy than, say, a campaigning politician or a backpedaling corporate spokesperson. Its facade of anger and revolt was as collapsable as punk's, leaving in its wake either capitalist icons or forgotten performers drowned out by newer variations.
With Rap Genius, this cultural taming has been crowd-sourced, turned into a communal pastime where we can all play a role in rap's defanging. News Genius goes a step further, offering a platform where users can defang themselves, translating their feelings of resentment and mistrust into safe, collaborative satire.
The structure of annotations defuses the discomfort of obviously false language by sparing readers from having to go through the process of interpreting it on their own. Any possible dissent is drained of its vigor by the fact that the annotations are mostly passive and entertainment-driven.
Like rap all-stars jumping at the chance to trademark themselves, News Genius is ultimately not in the dissent game. It is the product of entrepreneurs with an idea for how to profit from the obvious discrepancies between what the news tells us and what is true. News Genius does not exist to help us do anything about that, but instead use us to make money from that increasingly distressing reality. You don’t need a crowd-sourced annotation to reveal that truth.
Michael Thomsen is Complex.com's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.