Here is why ‘fake news’ and religion are the same

A serious effort to understand the true causes behind the purported proliferation of “fake news” in the Philippines begins with an examination of what motivates the average social media user to click the “Like”, “Retweet”, or “Forward” buttons on their devices. Those who decry the “ignorance” of the average social media user who mindlessly contributes to propagating content of dubious quality are, of course, right. There is an element of ignorance involved in consuming and spreading fake news.

But creating “fake news” is also an art. The reason people like and spread “fake news” is because of how cleverly it is crafted. Often content considered to be “fake news” is amusing or taps into the same aspect of our minds that finds pleasure — or reassurance — in believing in myths and superstition. Indeed, a lot of memetically-successful “fake news” content involved things people wanted to be true.

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I will have to agree then; that “fake news” cannot be compared to fiction. The two are as different as apples and oranges.

What “fake news” is comparable to, on the other hand, is religion. Here’s why.

Firstly, religion, like “fake news”, had both been proven to have a strong influence on politics. Those fear mongerers who have been issuing shrill warnings around the poisonous effect “fake news” has had on politics in America and the Philippines (blaming it on the ascent to power of Presidents Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte respectively) are right. Fake news poisoned the national discourses of these two “democracy” pinups. But the same can be said of religion and how strong an influence it had always been in the direction politics had taken through the centuries. The text underlying religion has yet to be proven true. But it had so far escaped the scrutiny of people who presume to apply “journalistic” criteria to their efforts to stamp out “fake news”.

Why do the same people allow religious beliefs of dubious validity drive political discourse and build vast institutional infrastructure with impunity yet kick up a monumental stink whenever they see rats-and-mice “fake news” snippets blighting their social media timelines?

That’s the laughable inconsistency of the untrained mind at work. Despite almost five centuries of scientific achievement since the Enlightenment, most people still think more with their brain stems and less with their cerebral cortices when evaluating information. Contrary to what modern-day philosophers in Silicon Valley (and the latte-sipping wannabes that infest Manila’s Starbucks cafes) tell us, social media did not make the average schmoe smarter. It just made stupidity more virulent and peddlers of unconditional belief more potent.

Second, “fake news”, like religion, articulates the wishful thoughts of the powerless. This is likely to be the key reason people knowingly and consciously spread “fake news” (and why people continue to go to church every Sunday despite being fully-aware that none of what is being said there applies to real life challenges).

This is why “fake news” is fundamentally different to literary fiction and virtually identical to religion. People want “fake news” — and religion — to be true. The same cannot be said of literary fiction.

In “fake news” Kris Aquino’s sexually-transmitted disease “leaks” and stinks up an entire airport. In “fake news” Leni Robredo is caught in bed with a married congressman. In “fake news” the top First World countries now offer visa-free entry to Filipino citizens.

In religious scripture, the unjust are damned to the fires of Hell and all is absolutely fair in God’s Kingdom — after you are dead, that is.

Fiction, on the other hand, is kept fictitious in people’s minds — an escape rather than a foundation for belief. In real life, there is no Darth Vader. No Mister Darcy. No Romeo. No Juliet. These characters are not the stuff of people’s wish lists and aspirations. They are mere artefacts that are products of and inspiration for imagination and idle fantasy.

How then do we mitigate the effects of “fake news” and unfounded beliefs on the course of real world history?

It took centuries for the pemiereship of religious dogma as bases for legislation and political leadership to decline in the prosperous secular world. In the same way, it will take a long time for the ignoramous rhetoric that underlies Philippine politics to decline and modern thinking faculties and disciplines to take hold in Philippine society.

One way, perhaps, is to understand what a fertile breeding ground for idiotic ideas social media is and how current business practices keep that environment so fertile in that way. Carriers in the Philippines, for example, deliver Facebook content over their networks free of charge. As a result, most ordinary Filipinos find it financially disadvantageous to verify an external link before they click the “Like” and “Share” buttons. Consider then how, every Sunday for one hour, people’s minds are hijacked by the pomp and pageantry of the Holy Sacrifice and the hallucinatory effects of the song and chants that accompany it.

Facebook, in that sense, is like Sunday mass — both provide comfy and reassuing cocoons within which our minds could stop the world and melt into a bath of memetic opiates.

Is “fake news” really the root cause of why the world is the way it is today? Think again.

19 Replies to “Here is why ‘fake news’ and religion are the same”

  1. @benignO

    Fake news and religion may be the same to you but not to many who may fine religion their only security blanket against the injustice and inequality on Earth.

    It may be strange to you that some believe dozens of virgins are waiting for them in the afterlife that they who are one a one-way mission in the name of the religious/political leaders and their God take extra extra effort to protect their private parts from physical destruction for them to enjoy the virgins in the afterlife; or uncomfortable for you seeing millions of devotees barefooted on Pista ng Nazareno following the Poon on that long winding route, and others appearing even lunatic if you happen to be not a sincere believer of that faith.

    Religion is necessary for lesser mortals not for the articulate intellectuals in this blog who in their arrogance could not comprehend maybe that there is such a Gaussian Curve in any given population.

    1. Indeed. What we could therefore conclude from what you said above (which I agree with) is that “fake news”, like religion, is an essential part of human civilisation — because there will always be people who prefer to embrace these rather than think things through.

    2. I definitely agree with you. Some people are just relying to their religion without doing anything,

      – Gustavo Woltmann

    3. Ngek,
      I am not sure who you refer to when you write ‘lesser mortals’?
      Are you refering to the poor, the un-educated, the low-educated?
      In my neck of the woods, many poor and many low and un-educated people do not follow a (organized or dis-organized) religion.

  2. Great article! The presentation in this article, like “fake news”, is also an art! And for what it wants to for its objective is certainly justified!

    So cleverly crafted and engaging that will probably prompt people (those who think and those who merely believe), who read the same, to comment and react on it with varying views or prospects.

    But what is exactly meant with the term “religion” being compared? Is the reference to it meant only for the Religious Organizations and the people behind and around them? Or is the term “religion” taken as encompassing beyond what is meant(?) as a whole, including even the Scriptures, with the inclusion of some statements, such as:

    “The text underlying religion has yet to be proven true.”
    “…religious beliefs of dubious validity”
    ““fake news” is fundamentally…and virtually identical to religion”

    Scientific achievement since the Enlightenment have proven that what is written in the Scriptures is most certainly NOT Unscientifically Fake! For one, there’s the archeological discovery of the coins of Pontius Pilate:

    “Pilate’s coins are a surviving witness to a time when Jesus walked on the earth…theses coins are physical evidence relating to Pilate. Evidence that a man called Pontius Pilate LIVED.”

    The idea, within which the extent or limitation behind the comparison of the term “religion” with “fake news” in this article, to have some form of distinction, helps…lest this article will also fall under the same category, to a certain extent, as “fake news”?! 😉

    1. Fake news is presenting something as factual,when it is known not to be.Evidence that Pilate lived is not evidence that it was the same that Jesus (what evidence that everything attributed to him in the bible actually wa his deeds,or even happened)was alive.
      There are many narratives of the Marcos years,some of which may contain downright untruths,but nobody denies that Marcos existed,because there is evidence.

  3. WOW! de lima is soooooo defensive trying to spin all accusations against her. looks like she’s already defending herself in a court being accused of fake news.

  4. If I tell you to go and kill infidels (non believers); and kill yourself in the process; because there are 72 virgins waiting for you in Paradise, after you are dead.

    Would you believe it ?

    It is an insane belief, concocted by the radical followers of Prophet Muhammad of the Islamic religion; in the 7th century. Yet, it survived , up to this day, in the form of suicide bombers, and radical Islamic terrorists.

    Religion may or may not be fake news. Some may had hallucinations, then, they claimed to have had religious experiences…and their followers call these people : prophets, saints, holy men, etc…

    Anyway, you have the right to believe, or not to believe.

    In the case of fake news, used to promote political agendas of politicians. We have to use our common sense. Like the Aquino’s EDSA fake news. They were self serving, because they made themselves, heroes and saints.

    Some people will always be gullible to believe in fake news. Because, they are too lazy to think.

    If you tell these people: ” The sky is falling !…they will believe it …

    Gullible people follow the crowd, like herds of sheep !

  5. You’ve been posting a lot about fake news lately. Are you trying to deflect all the police misconduct and boo-boos made by the police by pointing to fake news? Are we calling them “alternative facts” and blaming the evil horrible media instead of calling for the truth?

  6. when it comes to religion, whatever it is, if they used the name God, that’s fiction no doubt about it. the Incas knows better.

  7. WOW! president duterte is the best number 1 investigator. now the crime ring exposed…. they come out by themselves one by one.

  8. Lies and deception has been the tactics and strategy of the dark power (the prince of the power of the air Ephesians 2:2) in order to hide the truth of all things from mankind.
    Jesus Christ stated in Matthew 24:4 “Watch out that no one deceives you.”

    I already stayed away from organized religions, corporate churches, media and politics. I don’t have facebook and I loath the telcos owned by the tsinos for preying on us pinoy consumers.

  9. sooner or later the voice of the people (people power) might be launched to topple the rules of law of the yellows. president duterte vs the rules of the yellows. it’s the scenario right now.

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