Fake News

How does one define fake news? If a focus group were convened to address this question, the number of answers would likely equal the number of participants. Depending on one’s political leanings, a particular story could be gospel, or an attempt by the “mainstream media” to slander and discredit a beloved political figure. In a society where the credence is given to those who question the earth’s roundness, suggest reptilian shape shifters control our financial system, or believe vaccinations are bad for children, an agreement on what constitutes fake news is unattainable.
Long before the internet, a tool that was supposed to advance our intelligence and educational level, fake news was easy to recognize for all but the most delusional and mentally ill. These stories were quarantined in the check-out lanes at the grocery store. Accounts of aliens, Elvis sightings, photographic “proof” of Satan and the impending apocalypse, and trashy celebrity gossip were looked down upon by most shoppers who chuckled and asked the question: “Who believes this shit?”
Years later, when even the poorest and most uneducated have gained access to the internet, the separation of fact and fiction is far less defined. There is no fake news section on the world wide web like there was at Stop ‘n Shop. Neil Tyson DeGrasse is right next to Alex Jones. Scholarly articles on anthropology live alongside websites constructed by young-earth proponents. Scott Biao’s voice is just as loud as Bill Nye’s. We’re doomed.
The first time I remember hearing the term “fake news,” was during a true journalistic examination of this phenomenon while I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR. In 2016 Laura Sydell, along with tech engineer John Jansen, sought to find the author of a fake news story on http://www.denverguardian.com detailing how an FBI agent investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails was found dead in an apparent murder suicide. There was nothing true about the story, but it was shared 500,000 times on Facebook, and had close to two million views.
They found a gentleman whose name is Jestin Coler, a man living a cliché family life in suburban Los Angeles; married, two kids, minivan etc. A registered Democrat, Coler owns Disinfomedia; a conglomerate of domain names, and “news” sites. His original intention was to dupe patrons of far-right websites with ridiculous stories and show the readers how gullible and uneducated they were. Ironically, Coler and his team of anonymous writers found that baiting the alt-right resulted in millions of views which led to substantial advertising revenue; $10,000 to $30,000 a month, according to the article. This no-longer-fringe group of politically engaged conspiracists can’t resist outrageous stories that once only existed in The Enquirer, and every White Nationalist click is money. Coler does mention how they tried the same tactics with left-leaning sites, but they “couldn’t gain traction.”
Liberals aren’t immune though. Those of a left-leaning inclination like myself, believe emphatically in man-made climate change. I’ve accepted it as fact, and I enjoy the company of people who share this belief much more than with the coal, fossil fuels, and fracking crowd. But my path to this “truth” is illogical and misguided. I have never studied meteorology. I can’t identify cloud types, let alone the myriad of forces at work in our atmosphere. I don’t even know if it’s raining until I leave the house. Also, I have never met any of the “99% of scientists” who agree that man-made carbon emissions are raising the global temperature. Yet, somehow, I remain convinced. Not because of any expertise on the subject, but because I prefer the personalities of those who accept our role in the destruction of our planet. Our beliefs aren’t based on any personal scientific knowledge but have more to do with fashion and a herd mentality.
Once a person files a “belief” under “fact,” it becomes almost religious in nature, and any challenge to it become heretical. Cognitive dissonance used to be more prolonged and painful, but now that the term “fake news” has been appropriated by everyone to describe stories, opinions and facts with which they disagree, it is much easier to dismiss challenges to our deeply held beliefs. If Obama produces his birth certificate, it’s a fake. If a study on GMOs concludes that they aren’t a health risk, it’s just a conspiracy on the part of Montesano to poison humanity for profit. If illegal immigration is shown not to result in more crime or economic hardship, it’s the mainstream media, controlled by liberals, trying to change the racial makeup of our country. We no longer need expertise or even a mildly educated background on a subject to feel that we are infallible. You don’t need a college degree to find Jesus, nor do you need to be a structural engineer to know that upon examination of the video, that The World Trade Center was obviously a controlled demolition as the temperature of burning jet fuel doesn’t reach the melting point of…blah blah blah. Who needs and advanced degree from some liberal elitist college when you can watch Loose Change?
Now that many feel the “mainstream media,” which is synonymous for any news outlet that doesn’t espouse one’s deeply held beliefs, cannot be trusted, freedom of the press is no longer seen as a virtue and protector of our liberty. At one time, leaders, and especially the president, needed a relationship with the press to communicate with the people. This often led to difficult questions, clarified explanations, and accountability from our highest office. The president needed to be diplomatic, skilled, and thoughtful. Twitter did away with that.
Maybe it’s partially the press, and media’s fault that their credibility is declining. News for profit requires happy advertisers, which requires many eyeballs. Ideology, fear, and sensationalism garner more potential consumers then “facts,” if there is such a thing anymore. Fox would have middle America believe that Trump is the savior of our country. MSNBC would have you believe we’re spiraling into a fascist cesspool. But I would ask Donald’s most loyal followers, and staunchest opponents: Since he has become president, has your life really changed?


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