The ‘Fake News’ debacle is not one to be taken lightly. Although many social media users are capable of identifying legitimate news sources, it seems the lines are becoming increasingly blurred on what is considered news. Furthermore, the use of this phrase is allowing the public, and governments to ignore issues or deny wrongdoing.
The Pizza Gate affair – the details of which I will not delve into – has shown the influence that social media has upon the spread of information , factual or false. In light of this, Mark Zuckerberg has assured us that Facebook will begin introducing precautionary measures to filter out falsified news stories, this is a good start. Twitter is following suit.
The situation is very, very dangerous. If a fake news article is read and subsequently shared by thousands of people online, then the risk of damage to character is very real, as well as merely proliferating an ever-growing culture of misinformation in the ‘post-truth’ society we find ourselves in.
The political left and right should be united in their attempts to clamp down on slanderous material. However, like with virtually every other issue, they are growing further apart. Each side profit from having the public misinformed on the activities of their rivals, no doubt. However is this really the society we wish to live in? One that rejects legitimate news reporting for mere conjecture?
In 2016 we witnessed a so called ‘rejection’ of conventional news sources, the dreaded and dastardly Main Stream Media. The menace that has allegedly plagued the people’s of the western world for decades, and promotes the far more feared ‘PC’ society – One where people simply can’t spout racial or religious hatred (Ridiculous, right?). Trump supporters and Brexiteers alike share the common idea that the MSM cannot be trusted, and instead place their undying devotion in the hands of the demagogues they follow, relying on their leaders to inform them and rejecting objectivity entirely.
Whilst browsing social media on Saturday, I happened across several articles posted by The Guardian and Independent. The response to these articles was astounding, with several individuals accusing the publications of posting ‘fake news’ – using the term in the form of a hashtag. These were genuine news articles, not garbage. Actual pieces focusing on current issues and upcoming events, one of which was the arranged women’s march in Washington DC (Article can be found here)
Upon scrolling through the fake news hashtag, it seems this was plastered all over posts by news organisations and individuals. A common theme was that these were pieces critical of Donald Trump or the alt-right. Now the issue of impartiality in news coverage is an entirely different conversation, and I do not have the time, nor the statistics to look into air time, number of negative articles etc, so I’ll avoid it.
However to me it appears that many on the right of the political spectrum are using this tag as a means to de-legitimize genuine news articles and stifle discussion. After all, why have an in-depth debate on an issue when you can simply ignore your opponents or write them off as the pawns of a political conspiracy? It almost appears to be encouraged by the PEOTUS as well. Upon hearing of claims that a dossier contained information pertaining to Russia’s involvement with Trump – and the dangers of this – he took to social media to castigate those who had published the information, deeming it to be fake news, and claiming that Buzzfeed was a fake news organisation.
This is a highly volatile situation we face, if this document leak was false (there are claims and counter claims), then it is the responsibility of the media to acknowledge this, and any publication of it is wrong. However, on a fundamental level, if information critical of government can be suppressed through making this claim, then we linger dangerously close to the edge of a society found only in the works of George Orwell.
I tried engaging with one user and asked him why he had deemed this to be fake news, but was met with the response of “Coming from the side that cries racist”.
Now there is no denying that many on the political right are met with unjustified claims of xenophobia or racism, and that is equally as deplorable and counter-productive to debate as what we discuss, but this gave me a terrifying glimpse into the world of online discussion. A future in which one side screams, and the other refuses to acknowledge that the scream itself was legitimate.
If we continue down this path, then press freedom, accountability of government, and civilised debate will become things of the past. This cannot be allowed to happen, but what is the solution? Can we truly expect society as a whole to be equally well informed? People will believe what they want to believe, I suppose it’s up to the rest of us to not go insane dealing with the madness many spout.
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