Fake news, but where?
A month after the American election, the extent and influence of “fake news” is slowly being uncovered. Fake news is now at the top of most pundits’ lists of explanations. Unbeknownst to us in Snowflake Kingdom, the internet was jammed with “reports” of Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds: with no evidence, apart from multiple repetitions of the accusations, she was charged with corruption, bribery, money-laundering, foreign influence, and favouritism.
This may explain the fury of Trump supporters against Ms Clinton. Fake news reports from innumerable sources, many outside the USA, apparently swung the election. It discouraged Democrats and minorities, keeping many home, and it increased the determination of those who see themselves sidelined by the greed and criminality of higher-ups.
This is remarkable. It means the election was decided by an engineered sabotage of one candidate’s personal and professional life. Lies, not even gossip.
Fake news is not new (nor is it limited to one tendency). Rumours have always been used – from municipal elections upwards. We’ve had our own legal run-ins with robo-calls (disinformation) and false accusations (although no responsible person ever saw the inside of a jail cell, except for one PM’s minion from Peterborough.) But never have we seen a complete election railroaded by disinformation campaigns.
This will have serious effects on our political futures. If we cannot be convinced that electors are free and informed, how can we trust elections to deliver a democratic government?
Let me slip in a word for the heritage media you are holding in your hands: newspapers. If voters were ever to realize that they need to test the information they find on the internet, internet news sources would shrink incredibly – and shrink, largely, into the sites managed by newspapers – The Guardian, NYT, Washington Post, The Globe, La Jornada, etc. Why?
Newspapers are struggling today because they are expensive to produce and distribute, as compared to throwing a pie at the wall and video-ing it as Top News Internet Story of The Week. Why are newspapers heavily staffed? Get ready: fact-checking. Most newspaper stories are written by professional journalists who know how to research, pursue Access to Information, and so on. Each story is copy-edited and fact-checked, then proofed – always looking for mistakes and missing references or quotations.
Newspapers produce a hard copy which stays in existence – a screen shot is hardly evidence for anything, but a newspaper is the raw material for the history of our times. Hard copies are checkable, archivable, testable.
Newspapers operate under strict and clear liability and slander laws. The Quebec Press Council investigates all complaints. None of this for websites.
Those big staffs - and letters to the editor - keep many eyes on the newspapers’ credibility and accuracy.
Newspapers are part of a well-established system: this doesn’t mean corruption, it means accountability and accuracy. Advertisers will not support extremist or inflammatory news-reporting.
Getting our news “free” on the internet is much more costly than we ever imagine. We get what we pay for, right?