If fake news isn’t in tabloids or The Onion, then it can be a big problem. We are actually in an age of a zombie apocalypse. Everyone’s eyes are glazed looking at their small screens in phones, tablets and laptops either watching or reading content. Among that content is fake news. As if we didn’t already have that problem on network TV, it’s even tougher to verify credibility if the news came from blog sites instead of professional journalists. Especially now since people are cutting their network TV and cable cords left and right leaving their TV to Netflix and their news to Facebook. If people trust their respective news and blog sources, people will believe just about anything that comes from them, and that is very dangerous.
Let’s say I’m an ordinary office cubicle keyboard pusher who occasionally steals a few minutes every hour to read blogs or my favorite news site. I read something; I’m inclined to believe it because I don’t have the time to check for facts. My colleagues read the same thing, or they get it from me, and we talk about it by the water cooler. Did you know that Donald Trump keeps his mother’s mummified body in his attic? I read that Putin just sent a fresh batch of missiles to Cuba after Castro bought it. Many folks simply want to be that know-it-all at the lunch table just so they won’t be left out and being online all-day, we all have something to share whether it’s fake or not.
Fake news and rumor-mongering isn’t new. In fact, it can be weaponized. Fake news can be used to bring down a whole kingdom and even incite wars. Someone can just go marching into an isolated town and say ‘Hear ye hear ye, the duke so and so is in love with his own sister and are scheduled to marry next fortnight. His highness the King is into young boys and this not so important bit about raising your taxes two-fold!’ And because there’s no way to prove the announcement, the townsfolk are inclined to believe. In the pre-internet era as news is delivered quickly through radio and television, we are limited to trusting our professional journalists whether they’re free or incited by the state. We see most of everything as fact and fake news is limited to men-in-black broadsheets and satire TV shows. Fake news is still there especially during elections as candidates act like chimps and sling their feces at each other, taking that battle to primetime news.
Fast-forward to the present, politicians and warring states are still at it. Fake news is now more widespread than ever, allegedly being used by other countries to wage war in cyberspace spreading misinformation and is also used by politicians as their weapon of choice to discredit their opponents. Only this time, we are in an era of widely-available information, credible or not, and a simple Google and Wikipedia search are all we need for fact-checking. There’s so much information spread, baited or fed to us that we no longer know what to believe especially now that even professional journalists rely on such and are slowly losing credibility. And whatever ‘real’ journalistic value is lost as people continue to cancel their newspaper subscriptions and tossing out their TV antennas in favor of Wi-fi.
Here’s a sample bit of news that even affected the omnipresent CNN. CNN was allegedly hacked that it was showing porn instead of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown in Boston. Parts Unknown indeed. Did anyone bother watching CNN? No, since the news came from someone’s tweet and every other ‘news’ site wrote the bit after the fact without checking with CNN or the cable distributor RCN. It wasn’t exactly fake news as RCN did erroneously air porn for 30 minutes during Anthony Bourdain’s schedule but through no fault of CNN.
Again fake news is nothing new but the big reason fake news is currently news is because it was allegedly used in the 2016 presidential campaign to sway voters on both sides of the political fence. Why did Trump win against Hillary? Fake news. Why did Sanders get booted? Fake news. Germany and other countries are expecting an onslaught of fake news as elections draw near. They’re experiencing fake news as of now as rumors spread that Angela Merkel is secretly Hitler’s daughter and that Muslim refugees from Syria gang-raped a 13-year old Russian girl on her way to school. This is an alleged bid by Russian elements to undermine the German Prime Minister’s refugee policy. China, which has no problems with censorship seized the fake news issue to justify its draconian internet policies. The Philippines, already divided on Duterte is further divided by news about former strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ supposed heroes burial. News in varying degrees of true or false is being spread like wildfire on Facebook from both sides. In India, the government allegedly put a tracking chip in its new 2000 rupee note in order to curb corruption.
The world is drowning in information. Too much of it around and no time to get our facts straight. Is it time for us to rely on the printing press and network TV once more? Are disclaimers in order for every blog post or just maybe, fake news is being raised as an issue to curb internet freedom of speech and put bloggers in their rightful place? Looking for solutions other than full-on internet censorship.