Fake News

There is a problem in this world with people being led to believe that that which is not real is, and that which is isn’t. Over the last few years, even if the number of unreal information in this world hasn’t become more prevalent, it has become more widely circulated, or at least has had that appearance.

I didn’t know my my paternal grandfather, he died long before I was born. I did know my maternal grandfather, but I didn’t spend much time with him until I was 9 or 10, however that was because he moved from Florida to Houston to be put into an assisted living home on account of having Alzheimer’s disease. Consequently, most of the memories I have about my grandfather come from the few cross country visits we made before I was 10.

I only remember a few times we communicated, one was when he rebuked me for reading a comic book in dim light, asserting it was bad for my eyesight. The other was when he said in passing a quote often attributed to Edgar Allen Poe: “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” I’m not sure of what the context was in which it arose, and I’m unsure if it was one of his favorite quotes, but it became one of mine.

I feel like such a quote seems all the more relevant now. In the past, information wasn’t circulated so quickly or so widely. Instead of having a few thousand believe something, now a few million do. Before, it was only the case that such news could be spread by way of a printed pamphlet or newspaper, and that required considerable start up funding. Now one can simply create a website like this for no more than a few dollars, and with a couple viral posts, they can make their money back rather quickly with advertising.

It used to be the case that people trusted publications which had a history of integrity, but that has gone by the wayside when there are publications that agree with almost any intuitive position. All there was in the past of widespread authorities were sources of information with credibility. Libraries were trusted. Librarians reviews sources of information, accumulated knowledge, and ensured what was contained was free from error.

Newspapers gained credibility by building a long term reputation through providing true stories. There were some that didn’t. Many newspapers quickly came and went, but that information was localized. It didn’t reach broad viewership. That’s what makes illegitimate news sites so dangerous today, and it is exacerbated by social media sites. It was always the case that likeminded people associated with each other, but now they have unlimited ability to connect with other far flung groups.

Conspiracy theories on the validity of the 1969 Moon Landing were nowhere near as widespread then as they would have been with the connective ability of social media. At the outset of radio, the startup cost was high, and the transmission area was low except for the richest stations. That resulted in a thinning of who could produce news, the same occurred for television. That resulted in society being able to quickly determine which authorities held the most credibility, and that those stations fought for the broad swath of the public rather than narrow psychological groups.

Now, however, national conspiracy radio stations abound, as do transnational YouTube channels. People generally unsure what to believe, and consequently resort to the most basic form of trust, assuming their friends are correct. Social media allows a majority of people to avoid the thoughts they dislike, tacitly or overtly, and it all forms an echo chamber where one only knows that which they come across. For some groups it means knowing no falsehoods, for other it means knowing only what is invalid, yet both groups equally assert that they, and only they, know what is true.

If the reader hasn’t recognized by now, I’m against the use of the term “fake news”. I don’t wish to acknowledge that something can simultaneously be news and be fake. I don’t wish to play into that narrative. If one uses the term, it affords more validity to the argument that many news stations are fake. I understand that that may conflict with the interpretation of what I’ve written above, but wouldn’t quite agree.

I don’t think something that presents false information can be a news station. I believe there are only news outlets and propaganda soapboxes. If someone uses the term fake news, they then further the assumption of others that such a thing exists, they lend credence to the argument of those who assign the descriptor to true news outlets.

That being said, there is a difference between bias and willful misrepresentation. Bias is what type of news one presents, willful misrepresentation is lying. The former is a slant, the latter is propaganda.