A Political Tactic to Counter Criticism?
March 26, 2017, Tapio Mäkelä
Fake News appears as a red stamp on a Russian state website suggesting that many Western news items are `fake´. President Donald Trump claims that several news printed, aired or released on-line by well-established American news media are fake. The label `fake´ is used by those in power to undermine news media that do not support their political agenda or may have critical views. At the same time, fictional claims are presented as facts leading Facebook start marking content as “disputed”.
Several nation states are using tactics that can be called info war or hybrid warfare. This means for instance the generation of fabricated stories and presenting them as news, influencing social media in myriad of ways, and first cracking information sources and then publishing them as leaks. Also, the Russian influence on recent American presidential elections using above tactics has been verified.
The great polemic over fake news emerged from the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and his attack on mainstream media during his presidency. During his campaign, he and his team used several fabricated stories as facts, a practice which he has continued as a president over quite trivial pieces of misinformation such as number of attendees at his inauguration, or more serious claims as Obama wiretapping the Trump Tower. When news media challenge these assertions, he labels any media critical of his agenda “fake news”.
BBC Evan Davis interviews Trump administration aide Sebastian Gorka, who says:” The mainstream media no longer gets to monopolize news and we are going to go straight to the audiences, whether it’s through Twitter, whether it’s through YouTube, doesn't matter. We are not to put up with the distortions, and that people believe that they have monopoly on the truth simply because they have sixty years of letterhead above them, not going to happen, we communicate with our audiences, domestic and international, that's what the president meant.”
What were news in pre-Trump era in the West? News in the Western free press tradition combine contrasting views to shed light on a recent event, and by offering multiple angles to what has proven to have happened. News can also be straight forward reporting telling a course of the events without further commentary. It is assumed that news organisations operate on principles that value truthfulness and aim to serve the interest of their readers, and act as watchdogs of the state. Trump, as other authoritarian leaders before him in other nations, aim to undervalue news media as watchdogs of the state and suggesting that they do not even need to exist.
Both Putin and Trump administrations manufacture stories and use social media to gain popular support. Many things expressed appeal to emotions rather than rationale, and hence, attention seems more important than what is said, and whether the information has anything to do with reality. Populist rhetoric takes on buzzwords which are repeated tirelessly. Fake News is now even a title of a comedy talk show in the UK.
”Bending the truth for political gain is certainly nothing new - it’s propaganda, and the record of its uses stretch back to ancient times,” says James Carson on The Telegraph. Sebastian Gorka says that the Trump Administration will be using the term fake news as long as the mainstream media will attack President Trump. Sadly enough, if that is the case, one must hope the Trump administration will not stop using the term.
Facebook is working on its own fact checking algorithms, Annenberg Institute has been running a website called FactCheck.ORG. In order to find out whether a story is “true” it is not enough to know its origin, but even be able to know the reliability of the source. Will we see a future of information on-line, where those who post will be rated in the same way as Airbnb tenants rate each other, and the landlords? One of the biggest hurdles to reach accountability on-line is that it may not be in the interest of the big players Google and Facebook (and others), who so far have not minded about quality over quantity or truth over lies, but rather, the number of clicks.
Tim Cook, head of Apple Inc, says on Daily Telegraph that ““We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth,” he said. “It’s killing people’s minds in a way.” Cook is calling for all of the tech companies to help build tools to counter fake news.
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