Tuesday 3 January 2017

The "fake news" furore

The growing mainstream media furore over "fake news" is telling. Of course there are loads of dodgy websites out there pushing deliberate misinformation and abject made up nonsense, but the idea that the corporate mainstream press is some kind of bastion of reliability, and somehow not guilty of pushing "fake news" of their own is extraordinarily naive.

The mainstream press has undeniably been guilty of churning out "fake news" for decades. There was the uncritical front-page regurgitation of Tony Blair's Iraq distortions (see image). Before that there were the utterly disgraceful Hillsborough lies on the front page of the S*n. and the deliberate reversal of the Orgreave film footage by the BBC to make it look like it was the miners who attacked the police, rather than the other way around.

Even back in the 1920s the Daily Mail published the forged Zinoviev letter four days before the 1924 General Election as a desperate attempt to secure victory for the Tory party.

Even when the mainstream media isn't just making up the news completely by publishing crudely photoshopped images to smear their political enemies, lying about war heroes, or brazenly misrepresenting survey results in order to provoke anti-Muslim hatred, biases like the anti-NHS agenda of the right-wing tabloids are completely obvious for all to see.

It's clear that the problem of "Fake news" has been with us for decades, the only difference is that these days, thanks to the Internet, the corporate mainstream hacks no longer have such a powerful monopoly on the spreading of misleading and downright dishonest political propaganda. The "fake news" furore is more a demonstration of mainstream media hacks' fury that other people are usurping their ability to use lies and distortions to warp the political agenda, than a genuine concern about accuracy in reporting.

Aside from the erosion of their monopoly on controlling the news agenda with fake stories, another thing that mainstream journalists are struggling to cope with in the social media age is the rise of reliable alternative media.

Mainstream media hacks had become so used to spoon-feeding their political agenda to the public that many of them are now utterly complacent, and don't really know what to do about the upsurge in new alternative media sites that are dedicated to critiquing the manufactured news tropes pushed by the establishment media, and focusing attention on the information the mainstream press ignore.

We shouldn't be surprised if mainstream media hacks begin using "fake news" as a crude synonym for all alternative media, no matter how well researched and evidence based it actually is. Time and again mainstream media hacks have displayed their utter contempt towards alternative media and social media news sites, so sweeping up the whole lot under the pejorative term "fake news" would certainly suit their purposes of making all non-mainstream media sources seem inherently dodgy and unreliable.

Alternative media is also a thorn in the side of the Tory government because independent non-corporate websites tend to hold the government to account for things that mainstream hacks have so often been willing to ignore. So don't be surprised if the Tories decide to collude with the mainstream press by introducing legislation to clamp down on reliable and informative independent news sites under the guise of dealing with the problem of "fake news".

Of course I'm not trying to claim that "fake news" isn't a problem. It absolutely is, and it's clearly a problem that long-predates the Internet and the social media revolution too. What I'm trying to say is that the political establishment and their chums in the mainstream press are likely to try to use the "fake news" furore in order to achieve an unspoken agenda of smearing and obstructing the legitimate (non-fake) alternative news sites that they see as a threat to their own comfortable positions at the top of the news hierarchy.

In my view the only truly effective way to combat "fake news" is through a drive to improve the critical thinking skills of the general public so that people tend to ask questions like "who is telling me this?", "why are they telling me this?", "did the writer get paid for writing this, and by whom?", "is this piece evidence-based or opinion-based?", "what are the underlying assumptions in this article?", "does this article cite reliable sources?" before they decide to accept or reject whatever it is that they're being told, no matter whether the source is an independent blog or a mainstream media outlet.

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