Fake News Blues
“It’s fake news, Jim. But not as we know it.” Star Trek fans know Spock never said that. But that’s the power behind fake news stories. Hear them often enough and even the ridiculous feels real.
Today – well, not today exactly. But in this day and age, news is big business.
Having had a shellacking from Internet bloggers, free Web news and social media news reporting, the backside has fallen out of traditional media.
Advertising revenue – that glorious cash cow of newspapers and TV – has tiptoed over to cheaper media. Meaning Google has gobbled a lot. Plus, Facebook, and a dozen other hangers on.
Bottom line, it’s harder to make money in the media. So it’s a tough gig really. And selling enough copies, getting clicks, and catching viewer’s counts now more than ever.
And here’s the thing. Making news more melodramatic, more compelling, and more shocking is purely about getting attention.
So that’s the first opportunity for fake news forays. “Wild Woman Marries 30 Men” (turns out she’s a minister). “Local Mayor lays stone” (Ouch!). Basically, your typical, “Dog Graduates Driving School” kind of thing.
Back in the day, that kind of fake and fantastical news was the stuff of penny dreadfuls. “Wife Finds Husband’s Head in Lunchbox”, “Priest Spontaneously Combusts”, “Horse Breeds With Radish (to make Horseradish)”. At best fanciful. At worst cringe worthy.
And during wars governments censor reports and create propaganda. We expect that.
But now, there’s something new about fake news. Social media manipulation, and brainwashing are now in situ. So altered evidence, and completely made up stories are with us. And there’s no escape.
Those suspicious souls who believe there’s a conspiracy in everything they don’t approve of, revel in it. Seeking out stories often so preposterous, you wouldn’t read about them. Except that you do. Complete with thousands of “Likes” to ‘prove’ them.
And, in a sinister way, these fake news reports are no longer for for amusement. Far from it. They’re nasty.
Think malicious gossip gone nuclear. And it’s the insidious nature of this kind of fake news that goes for the jugular. To depose leaders, turn the tables on voter approval, and create racial hate.
Not nice. Not even bit.
As Hitler’s propaganda henchman, Josef Goebbels knew only too well, fake news has clout. He boasted, “The best propaganda… works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.”
Lie by stealth and people accept it. And, if it’s laced with venom, it’s more dangerous than candy coated in vegemite (that’s even more hazardous than deep fried mars bars).
So, the media, the Web, and the town crier have power. Used for good it’s great. But splash around the fuel of fake news and watch out! Ultimately, it all tends to end in tears. And we don’t want that.
Instead of carrying a big hanky (to wipe up those tears), we all need to practice asking what is reasonable. Is it reasonable to believe reports that Chuck Berry was a guitar playing chess champion who founded the Chuck E Cheese burger business?
Is it reasonable to believe that Armstrong, Aldrin and the rest of the guys who risked life and limb to go to the moon during the Apollo Missions didn’t go there at all? And that instead, they were casino hustlers, working out of Vegas selling used cars to newlyweds? Just to maintain their gambling and drinking habits?
Sometimes, being reasonable means having a thirst for factual information. So, instead of locking into the belief that Maxwell Smart really was a CONTROL agent working against KAOS during the Cold War… Could it be just a teensy, eensy, weensy bit possible that Max was just an actor in a situation comedy about spies?
Outrageous. And about as radical as your grandmother doing egg-sucking lessons.
Thanks to fake news, people have a whole lot of other predictable rubbish to sink their (un)brushed teeth into. Just as my old grandpappy used to say, “You know what? It’s all a load of cobblers.”
And that’s exactly what fake news is.