This edition of “Muse” will not be directly related to public relations per se but instead will talk about something that many of us are seriously concerned with — the problem of “fake” news (the term was originally coined by Donald Trump). The last few weeks got everyone glued to their screens again, with the events in Ukraine becoming the center of attention. The Russian invasion has been accompanied by a flood of viral content on social media. On the one hand, there is Russian propaganda, on the other — images of military actions which are difficult to verify. As we are following the news trying to figure out what is happening, we know there is an inherent risk that the information we see may not be true. Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of ‘fake news’:
The problem is not new — what today is called “fake news” is not a recent phenomenon of the age of the Internet. Although the current panic about “fake news” tends to revolve around new technologies, Internet and social media, the tendency to believe that any innovation poses a threat to the status quo is nothing new. The powers that be have a rather long history of attempting to control information and to make sure that the people are only exposed to the news they want out.
The problem is real — the spreading of false information is a major global risk and real harm can be inflicted, from bad health decisions to poor financial planning. Hoaxes and falsehoods can result in violence, and there have been cases which lead to the question of whether there should be limits to freedom of the press. Consider the example of RT network (or CNN) which is known for spreading misleading and slanted views. Although one can say that RT contributes to the diversity of opinions in the media, it would be a stretch to assume that such propaganda helps people to scrutinize their beliefs and thus aids to the development of a diverse communication environment.
The problem is not that these are lies — fake news is not merely false statements. There is no point in examining it by trying to verify if it is true. Fake news does not attempt to state facts, but rather to convey political biases through carefully crafted propaganda disguised as news with the aim of shaping the thoughts of its audience.
Fake news can not and should not be analyzed as statements which are either true or false. They can only be examined on the basis of matching the purpose, interests and ideology, and not the facts. The falsehood can be easily detected and revealed and fake news can be recognised as nonsensical, but it is pointless to discuss it as such. Ask “Cui bono?” first.