Fake News has been around forever, well, at least as long as there has been news. But recently it has become a sort of joke about what the press has become. Fake news is said to be a threat to society, but not for the reasons you’d expect.
We are told that ‘fake news‘ is out to trick us and influence us into believing things that are not true. That may be the case, but at times, the label is used to censor voices that are not approved.
Fake news is a perfect tool to silence dissident voices. The problem is that it comes at a time when it is difficult to trust the so-called good guys.
We think we know who the good guys are, but can we trust them? Can we be sure that they are even trying to tell the truth? After all, they have been wrong about many issues over the years.
Consider these examples, most of the popular news sources were sure that Donald Trump would lose the election. They were confident that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And they were satisfied that no severe economic issues were coming in 2008.
Being cynical about what seems to be happening to the mainstream media. The use of Fake news could be about lost revenues and jealousy rather than truth.
The traditional press is getting killed by new media, like alternative news and YouTube. The changing of the guard could be an incentive to try and silence those who are profiting from this transition.
The 24 Hour News Cycle
There are different types of fake news with varying degrees of falsehood. Absurd conspiracy theories are not at the same level as CNN. But it would be difficult to believe that CNN wasn’t fake to some extent.
Suggesting this isn’t to point the finger at CNN specifically, as Donald Trump did. Instead, it is to make light of the fact that CNN is the biggest name in the news.
Profits power CNN, and it is without a doubt a business. Earning money for news means that its primary aim is ratings and ad revenue. This motivator also suggests that the primary drive isn’t information, but entertainment. Even worse, this means sensationalism needs to be a part of the day to day news cycle.
Compounding this, 24-hour news sources are often a mix of news and opinion. At the best of times, it is hard to tell the difference. Usually, the only thing we can be sure of is that it is likely a mix of the two.
The Problem With Political News
Another kind of fake news comes from sources that have a different political agenda. By necessity, a different political view comes from a different worldview.
Our worldview is an all-encompassing filter of what goes in and comes out of our minds. Meaning our worldview changes the way we see the world and events.
People on the left and right often have conflicting views. A lazy but popular option is to call the other opinion fake. When you disagree with a person’s worldview, most of what they say will not make sense to you.
Ideology creates a subtle form of fake news, as the falsehood comes from political views rather than facts.
Obvious vs. Hidden Bias
When someone is racist or sexist, their bias is often apparent. In a way, it stands out, in part because we are primed to notice these sorts of differences in people.
But other types of biases are much less clear. A great example is the bias of someone who grew up in America. This bias wouldn’t be apparent to most Americans, but Canadians can spot it.
There are always biases in people’s worldview. These biases are influenced by where someone comes from and how they are raised. Professional journalists tend to have a lot in common. They usually live in major urban centres and attended university. They will also have grown to respect news, as they choose it as a career.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, only that it is a factor in anything they produce. Unfortunately, this worldview is not obvious, yet plays a significant role in any content created.
To be clear, when people say fake news, they often mean false or untrue news. But I’d argue, it is more subjective and based on the personal views of the speaker.
Bias Becomes Invisible When Everyone Shares It
In newsrooms, schools, businesses and families, people tend to share similar beliefs. The sharing of views means that any bias amongst them is not visible or noticeable.
The deeper problem comes from human nature, as we often connect with people who we agree. In a sense, we unintentionally create a bubble where we usually only hear opinions with which we already agree.
Due to this problem, we also get less exposure to outside or controversial ideas. Control like this influences the way we perceive events and how we make sense of matters. The difficulty that comes from this is that it is common with the people around us, so it acts like a feedback loop. Our opinions now feed the views we hear about later.
People don’t intend to repeat biases. They are merely trying to be honest about what they believe.
When it comes to the news, we go to our trusted sources. We go to the places that we believe we can rely on to be honest. But these sources do the same thing for their information. They use similar sources over and over again because they believe they are truthful.
The problem with this is that it relies on a regression to the past. You believe the story today because the story yesterday seemed to be true.
The problem with a trusted source is that we always go to it for facts. But this means that they have informed our current opinions of what the facts are. For this reason, our views of what is trustworthy become cloudy.
For something to be a fact, it must come from a trusted source. But this reliance is circular, as we use what we already know as support for what we accept today.
What Are Facts Anyway?
There are often few facts for any event. If there is a shooting, we may know who the victim and shooter were. There are also the other W’s like ‘what,’ ‘where,’ and ‘when.’ But much of how the story is told is coloured by hidden bias.
If the story has a social justice aspect to it, it implies moral signalling. When race is a factor, it will bring its own assumptions. If there is a lot of depth that brings previously held ideas with it.
For simple events, the facts may be apparent. But most events are complicated, and complexity creates obscurity.
Science takes years of study to certify a single fact. How can a story written in a day get anywhere near the truth?
Besides, not giving all the facts may be a form of lying. The choice of what to include can often paint a different picture.
On top of this, it is impossible to get the whole story, as some angles are hidden or undeclared.
Now To The Risk Of Censorship
The biggest concern with fake news is that it creates a justification for censorship. The left and right label things as fake news to have them removed from public discussion.
Another issue is that if the news doesn’t come from a trusted source, it is by definition fake. This is dangerous because it stops less popular ideas from gaining traction. But it also can act as a barrier to entry for new news sources. If a story isn’t from a trusted source, it can be shadow-banned without notice.
Control like this creates a situation where only the editors of existing trusted sources can decide what is right. In a sense, they get to choose what the truth is.
An aggregator like Facebook also gets to decide what is real, because they control what you see. They can easily block stories that make them or their sponsors look bad. Censorship has already happened many times with Google and will continue in the future.
The risk is that if we are willing to label things as fake, then the line becomes less clear. This kind of censorship takes away our choice and inevitably controls what people say in public.
Is It Bad?
Yes, but fake news is only a problem if we let it get out of control.
It’s often impossible to know what is right, but letting someone else decide is extremely dangerous. We need to make better choices as consumers, and we need to choose our sources and not let someone else decide for us.
In the end, it is all fake news, and the real story is often only a matter of opinion.