Monday, 20 February 2017

WORLD: The Concept of : ''Fake News''

Authoritarian and democratic regimes create a facade of democracy to maintain a veneer of legitimacy: By constructing fake political parties and phony social movements, as well as pseudo news media as outlet of ''Fake News'', they simulate democratic institutions to prevent authentic democracy from ever taking root.

Over time, these regimes have taken their imitation to a new level. With the principal goal of keeping their grip on power or manipulate the masses, modern authoritarian and democratic governments have built a sophisticated alternate universe of institutions: faux news outlets with state-of-the-art production values.

''Fake news'' are fabricated content or fictitious articles designed to deceive readers with the goal of profiting through clickbait. Fake News deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news--often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. 

Prior to the 2016 US election, ''Fake News'' maintained a presence on the Internet and tabloid journalism and had not impacted the election. Subsequent to the 2016 election, the issue of fake news turned into a political weapon, with Hillary Clinton's supporters accusing Trump's administration statements to be ''Fake News'' and Donald Trump's supporters claiming that Hillary Clinton's supporters spread false news.  Due to these back and forth complaints, the definition of fake news as used for such polemics became vague.

Trump, who has taken heat for making demonstrably false statements as president, has become an enthusiastic user of the term, bestowing the designation ''fake''or ''fake news'' on targets that include CNN, the media as a whole and the entire nation of Russia.

The best-known enterprise of ''Fake News'' is Russia’s RT (formerly Russia Today). During the referendum in Crimea, a hodgepodge of radical political figures, uncredentialed for authentic election monitoring, appeared on Russian government media outlets to present findings that went lock step with those of the Kremlin. In this brave new world, ''Fake News' are spread to the world from a simulated news outlet.

Not long ago, many observers were dismissive of RT’s influence. Today, however, thoughtful analysts are not as cavalier. While it is admittedly difficult to offer a precise metric of influence, RT and other Russian government media have become intertwined with the world of normal news, especially online. Key narratives pushed by such Russian media are picked up and propagated by Western news outlets. 

Popular aggregators of information on Russia, such as Johnson’s Russia List, seamlessly include RT and other Kremlin-backed media alongside sources such as the Associated Press and the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Slick Web sites with phony, misleading news reports appear increasingly in the new democracies of Central Europe to offer a Kremlin spin on events. As China, Iran and other ambitious, undemocratic regimes scale up their global media activities, the challenge of distinguishing between authentic and phony information will become only more complicated.

Why are the authoritarians going global with their simulation of democracy?
First, in today’s helter-skelter, fragmented world of media, these regimes appreciate that it is much easier to cloud the understanding of important issues. Masters of deception at home, they are investing heavily abroad and exploiting the opportunities offered by the new media environment to sow confusion and distrust.

More ominously, they seek to undermine democracy and human rights institutions from within. As the authoritarian alternate universe crashes into the democratic space, the imitation affects the real thing. At the Cold War’s end, this unpleasant reality did not factor into assumptions about how the world would operate. We must rethink these assumptions quickly, however, if the post-Cold War order is to be salvaged.

''Fake News'' concept is also well played by the so called ''democratic states''. In this battle of heart and minds to win the popular support of its citizens, democratic states governments use corporate media and spin doctors. The West/American corporate media and governments spin doctors have done their utmost to propagate and sustain an image of West/America as guarantor of freedom, and in turn the majority of Europeans and Americans have embraced this comfortable, mythic view as their own.

Democratic states governments and corporate media have encouraged the masses to engage in faulty thinking, in an effort to gain public support for self serving agendas that typically cannot be justified rationally; the only way to get them through is by sophistical means.

It is important to note that the primary motivation of gigantic media conglomerates is amassing profit, not truth. As a general rule, only if truth pays, will they report it. Likewise, a government seeking power and control over its citizens (which is all governments do to one extent or another) is likely to censor and whitewash the information it provides to its citizens, and even worse, to propagate disinformation, especially when the facts get in the way of implementing its own agenda.

So it would be naive to expect a government in ''democratic states'' that seeks power and control over its citizens not to use its influence over the corporate media in order to spread self-serving propaganda. As much as the corporate media need democratic states government to maximize their bottom line--through tax breaks, military contracts, relaxed media ownership rules, access to its officials and spokespersons, as well as other incentives and kickbacks--governments in democratic states have incredible power and leverage over the corporate media. For example, the latter was the case in the lead-up to Iraq War when the George W Bush's administration attempted to make the facts fit the policy, in order to justify the war.

Democracy depends on an informed populace. Regrettably, the practice of ''Fake News'' has made the people victims of the politico-corporate establishment in democratic and authoritarian states. And the people allow themselves to be duped and manipulated.

As W. K. Clifford remarked in his famous essay of 1877: ''The Ethics of Belief: ''it is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where its presumption to doubt and to investigate, there is worse than presumption to believe. 

In fact, Clifford maintained that each and every one of us (and not just politicians, lawyers, religious leaders, journalists, and others who bears a fiduciary relationship to us) has a duty to question, think before we commit them to belief. '' it is not the leader of men, statesmen, philosopher, or poet that owes the bounden duty to mankind'' states Clifford. ''No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe''.

However, this assumes that the people must be able, in the first place, to distinguish fact from fiction, and sufficient evidence from pseudo evidence. They must have a sense of what constitutes rational criteria for belief before they can even begin to determine if they have a good reason to commit something to belief. But this is possible only if they are privy to the sophistical mechanisms that democratic and authoritarian states/governments, through politico-corporate media establishment, use to manipulate and garner their support.

For example, the Downing Street memos document that, prior to the invasion of Iraq did not truly believe that Saddam Hussein posed a serious threat to national security. Nevertheless, the Bush's administration sought public support for invading Iraq and rightly believed that, the people were feeling insecure enough after the September 11, 2001, to support the invasion if they were told it was necessary to prevent another terror attack. So the Bush's administration used their vulnerability to manipulate their support. Unfortunately, the people based their commitment to Bush's war on faulty thinking. This same destructive pattern has repeated itself ad nauseam.

A single article cannot cover all the rational thought processes that can help to promote true democracy and protect ourselves against '' Fake News'' practices. Nevertheless, there are six steps that are crucial to thinking for ourselves in order to defend the true democratic values against ''Fake News'' tactics (human gullibility and unreasoning): 

1. Ask for explanations, 2. Look for consistency, 3. Question the status quo, 4. Believe only credible authorities, 5. Watch out for fear mongering and demagoguery, 6. Beware of media supported stereotypes. Taken together, these instructions provide a useful heuristic for determining whether you are justified in accepting any politico-corporate claims.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analys

Photo-Credit: AFP-photo: 

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