“Fake news” this and “fake news” that. But does anyone really know what “fake news” is? The fact is, “fake news” has become a term that is bandied around the most by wannabe “activists” who couldn’t be bothered to define terms clearly first before building entire “advocacies” around these.
The Collins dictionary defines “fake news” as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” Using that simple and sensible meaning it is evident that “fake news” covers people or websites pretending to be “journalists” or news sites. This means that bloggers, people and organisations that publish content on social media sites, and people expressing opinions are not “purveyors of fake news”.
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This makes fake news in its real sense just a mere subset of the landscape of misinformation. Misinformation will always be around. It’s as old as gossip itself. In fact, gossip is a deeply-ingrained characteristic of the human condition. Whether factual or not factual, information spreads on the back of the reputation of its messenger. Thus, much the same way we trust traditional mainstream news media organisations to “report” factual news, we also trust the opinions of people we hold in high regard.
This is the reason the idea that the sun revolved around the Earth stuck for centuries, because people trusted the Roman Catholic Church as an unassailable purveyor of “truth”. It is worth noting that the Catholic Church fought tooth and nail to protect its reputation as a source of truth to the point that it mounted horrific massacres and demonisation campaigns against people and communities who threatened that reputation. The label used at the time was “evil”.
That’s because history tends to repeat itself. Today, “fake news” is the new “evil”. An entrenched traditional source of truth — mainstream news media (the Establishment) — now find themselves in the same position the Catholic Church found itself in when Copernicus and Galileo started to propose alternative theories to explain how celestial bodies moved in space relative to one another.
Just like a new way of processing information — the scientific method — provided the foundation that disrupted the Catholic Church’s ascendancy back then, a new way of disseminating information to a mass audience — the Internet and its application in social media — today provides the foundation that allows ordinary folk to challenge the ascendancy of traditional news media as sources of truth.
The parallels are pretty evident. The Catholic Church and its “bishops” and “priests” like mainstream media and its “journalists” had formed an exclusive community that monopolised control of information and knowledge. The scientific method and social media provided open platforms that dismantled exclusivity and created inclusiveness.
It is interesting to note that mainstream news media is seen to be a liberal-leaning community. It is interesting because when regarded in the context of today’s battle between the Establishment and the denizens of the social media jungle running circles around it, it is really the earlier that is now taking on the role of the conservatives (protecting exclusivity) and the latter that of the liberals (espousing inclusiveness). Social media is an inclusive platform and, as such, any platform that is inclusive in nature produces diversity.
Diversity is always uncomfortable to conservatives who had for years been made comfy by their self-engineered exclusivity. This is the reality — and the contradiction in their belief system — that mainstream news media need to come to terms with.
You see this state of bewilderment in the two recent probes on “fake news” conducted by the Philippine Senate. The “resource persons” invited to the probe were mostly bloggers — people who have never pretended nor even fancied themselves as “journalists” or “news” reporters. You can’t find “fake news” amongst a set of “resource persons” comprising a set outside of the notion of “fake news” defined by, say, the the Collins Dictionary. As expected, these two exercises were total wastes of time seeing that nothing was clarified, no next steps defined, and no legislation agendas aided.
The term “fake news” has become overused because a powerful (but declining) empire is using its vast resources to turn it into a an ill-understood buzzword. The road to enlightenment is not a straight path, but it will be taken by people who make a conscious and systematic effort to seek the truth independent of what established exclusive cliques of self-anointed authorities on “truth” have to say. It’s only a matter of time.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.