Fake news has been around since the beginning of time. Its use tends to come in waves with particularly large outbreaks preceding elections. Though impossible to eliminate, as with any other form of undesirable written or verbal communication, it most certainly can be managed.
Take Facebook for example. After reports of fake news having swayed the public towards favoring Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton and despite the initial denial of this by founder Mark Zuckerberg, the company has placed a fake news reporting mechanism on newsworthy posts. Now we can dispute and seek the removal of stupid false headlines that gullible people tend to accept as real. When I report an article entitled “Hillary Clinton in Hiding Due to Impending Detention in Russian Gulag,” someone is supposed to investigate this and finding it to be untrue, promptly remove it. Let’s hope they are sincere in this effort.
On the other hand, the insatiable desire for power and wealth are the objectives that cause the downfall of businesses, governments, and inevitably, of societies. And as George Orwell pointed out in his famous novel entitled 1984,
He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
When the internet went mainstream; for example, standards of journalist ethics did not. Before long everyone could promote an agenda without any strings attached via the manufacturing of “content.” The world of business capitalized on a strategy of content milling to bring in new customers and make more money.
The management of fake news on an institutional level for the purpose of creating an alternate reality that will lead to the benefit of that institution is called propaganda. We’ve seen it used by dictators time and time again; in fact, quite recently. What we have been seeing more recently is the piggybacking of propaganda for government AND business gains. Let me paint you a little scenario:
With the newspaper industry’s steady march towards corporately outsourced oblivion, free and convenient social media platforms are picking up the slack. Following the traditional media finance method, such outlets are able to reach unlimited advertisers who want to draw in unlimited news consumers. All involved are happy to turn a blind eye when the fake news starts rolling in. Politicians and governments soon jump into the fray, stirring up the mass media soup until the demand for news content has simmered up to their liking. Social media executives work hand-in-hand with politicians and world leaders to build their own impenetrable, yet sustainable empire. While the online community fights one another, a waterfall of cash is overflowing into a cesspool of greed.
We can stop it. The question is do we care to? I challenge readers to report fake news as if our lives depended upon it. If there are no significant changes after a year has passed, we should become extremely careful participating in those particular social media platforms. It is a big deal, and our children’s future may depend on our willingness to act.
See page for image author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons