Fake News, the Distorted Offspring of Journalism

Feb 20, 2017
Fake news
Donald Trump is not the cause of any problem - he is the genesis of a decadent America falling because of the excesses it has generated and the a civil war that has never really ended.
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When, in the early morning of November 9th, Donald Trump made his announcement as president-elect, liberal America (and the world) felt a chill worthy of horror films. Trump, in an almost hysterical excitement, announced the Democrat's capitulation after a long and bloody battle before a stunned society. That night, the status quo of American journalism, which had predicted Trump's defeat, received a punch in the mouth and fell to the canvas, entering a state of confusion in the search for answers. That night, Trump delivered the entity fake news as the most likely culprit for a historic election. Along with the terms “surreal” and “post-truth”, fake news could represent an epic opportunity for journalism - or the final nail in the coffin for a dying industry in a coma.
Every year, Google wraps up the cleaning it does in its ad inventory. This year's report was expected to sweep up the malignant star of invented news - and it did. But the core of the company's supervision was aimed at false content designed to boost the sale of products, such as fake medicines or those that deceive buyers. Sites dedicated to creating stories like “Pope Francis shocks the world by announcing support for Trump” continued to circulate freely, not being primary targets of the algorithmic Inquisition.
Complex investigations have emerged in the media since the election of the media businessman seeking to factually show that the election was rigged. Graphs, lists, and analyses (like this one from Digiday) are recurring and in some cases, even raise interesting points and reveal, precisely, a problem with assigning credibility to the Internet that is relevant and worrying, but the goalpost is far from where the ball was. The foundation of the problem, or rather, the problem of the press is that its own foundations are - very - compromised.

(Lack of) Public Confidence

Never has the media been so detached from the audience. Blame whatever you want - the failure of the traditional business model, the impact of digital, social media. What comes out in the newspaper is no longer true, at least as far as readers are concerned. The conclusion of the Oxford dictionary that the term “post-truth” is the word of the year goes through the issue of trust. Historically, telling a lie (or a falsehood - understand the difference in the words of the Washington Post editor) was a short-term resource. In the current context, defining “truth” has come to have an opinionated element and this has also helped to bleed newspapers in the long term - and now is the time when we are seeing the pool of blood on the floor.
In a world where the cult of personality has become obscenely profitable, public appearances (something everyone does when posting on any open platform), no matter how stupid, the importance of determining the truth has decreased. The dispute has coupled truth to success in debate. If you won the fight, you got the prize, even if you cheated. The important discussions of the world have turned into a Fla-Flu with a thief of a referee, in fact, a Fla-Flu where you don't go up to the field only with your team, but bring your own referee. Once you've won the argument, no one comes back to see if you're lying. American President Donald Trump is the greatest representative of the radical sect of optional post-truth.
The debate about the subject is strongly linked to Trump's election. The Trump Era was the one who named the entity fake news, although it has always existed, because Liberal America, especially Jewish-Christian, needed an enemy, a dybbuk, to expiate the guilt of electing a candidate who declared war on the essence of the American dream. Trump is the synthesis of what the USA swore not to be and he came to power. So as now, such a reality cannot be true - it must be a lie. The denial in the face of such horror follows the logic of Theodore Adorno when he observed that the truth in Nazism was so miserable that it did not deserve to be called “truth”.

The Digital Inquisition (of the “good”)

In 2017, at any given time, 3 out of 5 of the trending articles on social networks are about the host of The Apprentice (10 out of 12 if the category is “News”). Trump had no doubts when naming his government team. He has a Cuban linked to anti-Castro Miami, a retired general with a taste for conspiracy theory, an adviser whose opinions are easily linked to fascism, and another who suggests that there are “alternative facts” to those shown by the press, a caricatured spokesperson who argues with journalists. In other words, Trump gave birth to fake news and is passionately wrapping them up with a radical and questionable team that has the same vocation for politics and diplomacy as Godzilla arriving in Tokyo.
The surreal picture (term chosen by another dictionary, the Merriam Webster, as the word of the year) was the excuse to start the biggest media offensive against a president ever seen. In addition to the obvious political combat, given the government measures of the Trump administration so far, media, NGOs, civil society, and technology companies felt obliged to open a hunt for fake news, supposedly the malignant womb that brought a president at war with his own country into the world. Or rather, part of the country, because Trump was not elected by a racist, millionaire, evangelical-Jewish minority that hates blacks, Hispanics, foreigners, intellectuals. More than 60 million people decided to leave home and vote for him (I spoke about this in this text here).
Tech companies, newspapers, journalists and others started a crusade to end fake news as if they had elected Trump and not the circumstances of a moment in which the intellectual and corporate elite of the USA neglected the 99% who occupied Wall Street. The news sites with no connection to reality have never been so strong and significant. It's as if Der Stürmer by Julian Streicher, the first-journalist of the Third Reich, had been given Buzzfeed as a gift. The press is in open war with Trump and is not even ashamed to say so, because it considers the fight against Trump the equivalent of the Crusades for medieval Catholicism.

Root of the problem is not new

Journalism and newspapers were not obliterated by the Trumpist consolidation of sites claiming that Hillary Clinton has a diabolical clone or anything else. They were dragged into irrelevance by the distance they took from society, slowly, while they allowed the Bush administration to change the geographical configuration of US electoral districts, complied with the invasion of Iraq under the pretext of chemical weapons, allowed none of the bankers responsible for the 2008 crisis to be arrested, prevaricated while the Obama administration illegally pursued Julian Assange and Edward Snowden et al.
While the impact of digital was corroding the accounts of major media companies, the intellectual journalistic elite was forgetting more and more to serve society to the point of making all the choices mentioned above. Yes, there was a transfer of power from communication companies to technology companies, but, no, the responsibilities for the degradation of the relationship between journalists and society are not just the consequences of this migration. False news arose in the wake of the poisonous, intransigent, and intolerant atmosphere that the world cultivated over the past twenty years and not as a sub-symptom of a movement to rig elections. The ongoing digital Inquisition classifies itself as being “of the good” and in general, it even is. Unfortunately, it does not make a self-criticism to assess the mistakes that its inquisitors have made and this makes all the difference.
Few people notice, but the type of content most disseminated on the Web - the opinionated speeches that hunt for likes that speak to the friendliest audiences - are a sophisticated variable of fake news. Even when there is no distortion of facts (and more often than not, there is), the opinion roll with the disqualification of critics and facts that weakened the argument has a devastating effect on the core of democracy, the discussion of ideas as a Darwinist tool to reach the most positive conclusion for society.
In short: getting angry at your adversary so that your little friends like and share is to fertilize the land for fake news to spread. False information is not only factual. The “debate” about a subject among people of one opinion only is as illegitimate as the posting of a hoax. The infection that this false discussion causes is of the same nature as the news based on a lie. Fake news is a bastard child of journalism, a child whose recognition of paternity is the first step to tackle the causes of the problem.
Only now, with a more relevant event like the election of a US president, is the stench beginning to come out of the drain, but the sewage is where it has always been. Fake news is not an opportunity or threat to journalism. They are a symptom of a paradigm shift that philosophers will need to explain. The human being has consciously agreed to give up the truth, to feel more fulfilled. In such a scenario, journalism is not under threat - it no longer makes sense, because its very nature depends on this search for truth that permeates civilization. The traditional media (digital or not) allowed the audience to reflect on whether or not it wants the truth. And without truth as a pillar, journalists do not exist and society is without a foundation.


© Cassiano Gobbet 2023 - 2024