Fake news is nothing new. In fact, whole nations have been built on fake news stories. Take, for example, the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770. The crib notes version is that during a demonstration British soldiers fired on the protesters, killing 3 instantly. There is, like every historical event a far greater context, preceding events and contributing background that makes the cartoonish American fiction of the event far less certain. Pro-independence, anti-British partisans were quick to seize upon the event, reframing and reconstructing the facts to support their agenda. That retooled story stoked anti-British sentiments throughout the colonies and swelled support for the pro-independence cause. It was, by any contemporary standard, a very liberal manipulation of facts, intended not to inform but to arouse. It was fake news.
So nothing new has been invented here, except perhaps a stealth campaign to undermine freedom of speech and the Press through a knee jerk reaction to the so-called scourge and epidemic of “fake” news. Fake news has always existed. Every nation, every nationalist movement, every empire has engaged in it. But even within the term “Fake news” there are levels and nuance. One thing is absolutely certain, and that is the notion of fake news is not being applied as a means of garnering a better more fact-based quality of information and journalism, but is instead an effort to assault the quality of information by discrediting actual news sources.
First it is important to understand some of the variations of so-called Fake News.
PARODY-The Onion is a great example. When fake news is obviously created and intended to entertain. The Onion, however has been mis-construed several times and confused for real news. The power of parody; but for those looking at strategies to sneak information under the radar of public discretion, such moments can be great proving grounds for learning to deconstruct and manipulate information.
PROPAGANDA-All propaganda has a strong basis in fact and truth, twisted in such a way as to cause the reader or viewer to make decisions about truth and situational ethics drawn through their own base fears, and misgivings. a perfect example of this is the line; “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims. ”
MISINFORMATION-Misinformation has a very defined strategic goal. The effort is to incite through the assault on facts in favor of visceral, reactive emotions. The effort to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement by the Right wing was via comments like “All lives matter,” which fundamentally misrepresented and misdirected the argument based upon a visceral and emotionally targeted misinformation campaign. Several years ago Rightwing and Republican groups were seeding the internet and Facebook with false stories then attacking those who shared or commented on the story as a means of discrediting opposition. Last week a CBS affiliate picked up a fake news story about Trump aide Kelly Anne Conway punching a guest at the inaugural ball, perhaps a planted story intended to snare sloppy journalistic standards..
. It is also important to understand what is NOT fake news.
MISTAKES- Mistakes happen. Newspapers and media journalists are always under pressure of deadlines. More than that they are human. While a high frequency of mistakes might indicate other issues, mistakes, particularly those that are corrected and acknowledged are not Fake news.
RECANTATIONS- Witnesses can change their stories, particularly over time, get scared, become tired, become co-opted or simply stop talking, even to the point of taking back true statements. Recantations should be taken in context, and viewed amid a larger pool of corroborating information.
EVOLVING STORIES-Facts come to light, which may change the character of a story or an initial report. Others may interfere with a story, obscuring or confusing facts until the original facts and story become clouded. The shooting in Ferguson of a Black teen, Michael Brown by a Police officer in 2014 has become so clouded in contradicting information that the original facts of the event are argumentative depending upon political ideology rather than facts.
DISAGREEMENT-Witness to an event disagree, often vehemently and on fundamental aspects of an issue. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is a prime example. Profiteers, sensationalists, tabloid journalism, government obfuscation and conspiracy theorists take varying witness perspectives out of context until the true history, again, is muddled and obscured.
So what exactly is fake news? Simply, fake news are stories manufactured or directly manipulated to serve and further a political or ideological agenda. It is purposeful in its intention, and that should not be confused with a journalistic piece having a point of view. There is no journalistic reason simply to report of human rights violations unless the journalist hopes the story will have a positive impact. The act of real reporting about corruption or injustice demands making a stand or having an opinion about its inherent immorality. Fake News is virtually always a strategy to undermine justice, the rule of law and to protect or support the powerful and wealthy.
Fake news is indeed a problem, but it is a problem of management and integrity by reporting bodies, and by the public to hold media and journalists accountable for relaying independently verifiable and testable information. Passing laws and statutes, censorship or governmental oversight into what constitutes real journalism as opposed to fake news is a pathway to censorship and an eradication of a Free Press.
The press should endeavor to disagree with the government. Agreement with the government, true agreement with a free and uncensored Press means that oversight into what the government is doing is having an effect, while sublime disagreement might be the best indication the media is doing its job.