Fake news do not persuade people, or turn them, it reinforces their view of the world. It tells them what they want to hear, what they want to believe.
The media, Trump, Facebook, are all concerned about pointing out the dangers of fake news and the need to close down all sources of fake newsmakers. There is a race to find the source, somewhere in Eastern Europe we are told, and everyday, we are bombarded with updates, whether it is Trump or his administration claiming one piece of news or the other is fake, or other sections of the media reporting on teenage fake news makers somewhere far from our front door, or new startups selling fake news detector softwares.
Since Trump came to power, we are constantly warned to be vigilant, we are reminded that the danger is real, the risk of fake news creeping into our hearts and minds, influencing our thoughts, our views and even our votes are real and present. But who can we trust? And what do fake news look like? What about spin, is spin fake news? The mind boggles. And where do we find fake news?
A recent WhatsApp message doing the rounds, carried a picture of a world leader, flanked by two KKK figures in full regalia accompanied by the words – “quick share this before it is taken down”. A photoshopped picture, no doubt, but one wonders about the KKK outfit. Those big pointy hats and the white sheets, who could have done such a bad job, not the type of outfit for a selfie.
Back to the matter at hand, the picture of a world leader and his KKK friends and the caption, one wonders how he got elected with this framed picture hanging on his mantelpiece. Surely this would have been more lethal than any other insipid revelations. How was this photo found? Was it buried somewhere and some intrepid reporter who was after fake news sneaked it in, dug it up, WhatsApped it to his friend who is now WhatsApping it around the world. Is this fake or real?
It is obvious that those who share fake news do not ask any questions about its provenance. They do not exercise any sifting. There are people who prefer fake news to any other type of news, for them it is more exciting, salacious and captivating. Fake news abound. Fake news about celebrities, food, cures for cancer and government conspiracies.
Fake news do not persuade people, or turn them, it reinforces their view of the world. It reinforces what they want to hear, what they want to believe. The recent casualty of fake news is no other than Donald Trump himself. In a rally on Saturday 18 February, Trump repeated his campaign promise to his supporters about “keeping our country safe”. He went on to remind them of catastrophic events in Europe which he claimed followed large influx of Muslim immigrants, in places such as France and Germany. But more importantly, he talked about Sweden: “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden, Sweden, who would have believed this. Sweden, they took in large numbers . . .” Donald Trump believes that there is huge number of undocumented, unvetted immigrants in the US who are the cause of many “happenings”. It is not surprising that he would talk about “happening” in Sweden on the night of Friday 17 February, of which the Swedes themselves were not aware. Who can forget the false claim by a Fox News pundit in 2015, that Birmingham in the UK was a no-go area for non-Muslims.
Those who believe that immigration into the US is dangerous for the security of the US will believe anything they read, ignore or bend some facts or even make up some more. They will vote for anybody who promises to build a wall on the Mexico border. While we are being vigilant about fake news, a US president signed an order stopping immigration from 7 countries, (no citizens from any of these countries have carried out terrorist attacks in the US) leaving out both Egypt and Saudi Arabia (terrorists from those two countries had been responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the US).
Those who believe in conspiracy theories will ingest news about conspiracies everywhere, they will look for conspiracies where there are none, they will subscribe to news about UFOs sighted walking hand in hand with Trump. They will willingly believe any news that says that Beyonce and Jay-Z are the grand dragons of the so-called Illuminati and they will ban all Muslims from America.
Even if fake news channels are closed down, people will continue to share fake news, because like it or not, some people just want to believe things other than the truth. The facts do not matter, for them there is conspiracy everywhere and bad dudes are lurking in the shadows.
Published on 3 March in The European Business Review.