Throughout history leaders have used means of deception, created falsehoods and produced propaganda in attempts to control their citizens. It has ranged from religious indoctrination, attempts at enlisting for the military, and hoaxes perpetuated by the British Tabloids. Mainstream media portrays fake news as a new threat, disseminated by social media platform’s lack of motivation to fact check. It is essentially just a new word for propaganda.
In large parts of the world these sorts of practises are still occurring. Russia has its state-controlled media and China heavily censors both media and internet access.
The strong awareness that the Western world has of fake news shows an active quest for the truth. This endeavour for reality illustrates the populations consciousness of the importance of a reliable source. Wanting to hold politicians and the media accountable for what they say and do is a fundamental pillar of democracy.
Fake news became a part of mainstream dialect at the 2016 US presidential elections. The left said Trump used the term for anything he disagreed with, and the right accused the left of using it to prevent their legitimate concerns around the credibility of the establishment from being heard. Left or right, Democrat or Republican, it is evident that the term ‘fake news’ was used in a deliberate attempt to polarise.
However, fake news is not exclusive to western society. Trump in the 2019 G20 summit remarked to Putin ‘Fake news. Great term isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.’
Putin’s response was ‘We also have, it’s the same’
Although it is not immediately apparent whether Putin was talking about the left or right’s definition, in the context of Russian politics a clear affinity between fake news and propaganda is shown. All nation states and those seeking power release propaganda, whether it be directly from the state or from teenagers in North Macedonia.
The term ‘fake news’ is designed to illicit a negative reaction. Its saying to the general population that all they are seeing on their screens is conspiracy theories. It has been suggested that in most cases readers can identify the authenticity of fake news but are more concerned about how entertaining or ‘shocking’ the content is. A desire for fables and stories is a fundamental part of human nature. Whether it be Little Red Riding Hood or Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a New York pizza joint.
Fake news is partially self-regulated. People recognise, demonise and call out stories known to be false. It is still important that social media platforms are regulated and encouraged to identify fake news, but heavy regulations of social media lends itself to censorship of content, rather than being a useful platform for people to exercise their freedom of speech.
Ultimately the internet has provided a platform in which people can research and fact check for themselves; the West is far more informed and empowered because of social media.
By having widespread acknowledgment of the concept of ‘fake news’ we have already progressed. For a more positive and progressive world lets stop this disparaging attitude and celebrate the greatest bank of knowledge and communication humans have ever had.