Tag Archives: Fake News

Russian interference threatens European democracy

By Richard Maher, European University Institute
March, 2017

With important national elections scheduled this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, European officials on edge about possible Russian interference are pursuing various measures to counter it. The Conversation

But with a daily onslaught of fake and misleading news, repeated attempts to hack computer systems of “anti-Moscow” politicians and political parties, their task is immense.

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Russian efforts to tilt elections and national referenda to suit its interests are ongoing. According to a report released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Russia’s influence on the 2016 US election, Putin’s government “has sought to influence elections across Europe”.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic security agency, also warned of “growing evidence” of Russian attempts to influence Germany’s federal elections, set for September.

Alex Younger, the head of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, finds “profound” the risk to British sovereignty posed by the kind of state-directed fake news, propaganda, and other acts of subversion the Kremlin routinely engages in.

Russia has denied interference in the US or European elections, and calls such accusations examples of rampant “Russophobia” in the West.

Undermining democracy

Disinformation campaigns, or what are also sometimes called “active measures” in the “information space”, have become an increasingly important feature of Russian military doctrine.

The goal of these campaigns is to weaken and undermine support for the European Union, NATO, and public trust and confidence in democracy itself. And with the rise of anti-establishment, anti-EU politicians across Europe, Russia has found an increasingly receptive audience for such operations.

Russian propaganda campaigns date back to before the Cold War. But the sophistication and volume of these efforts are greater today than in the past. The internet has opened up new modes and opportunities for Russia to influence foreign elections — and new vulnerabilities for democratic societies, for which the free flow of information is a fundamental feature.

There is evidence, for example, that Russia played a role in several key national referenda across Europe last year: in April, when Dutch voters rejected an EU treaty with Ukraine that would have led to closer political and economic ties; in June, when British voters opted to leave the EU; and in December, when Italian voters rejected constitutional reforms championed by then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading to his resignation.

The results of each of these votes served Russia’s broad interest in undermining EU cohesion.

Russian interference in Western elections can take various forms. Its operators may disseminate false or misleading news via blogs, websites, and social media or hack into computer networks and email accounts to steal and then leak compromising information against politicians seen to be anti-Russia (for example, Hillary Clinton). At the extreme, hackers may rig computer systems to manipulate election vote counts.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns also aim to instil doubt, confusion, and cynicism in the democratic process, erode public trust in institutions and in the news media — even to the point of eliminating the very idea of “a shared reality”. This foments populist anger and anxiety.

Thus disinformation campaigns and cyberespionage are for Russia attractive means to undermine Western governments and societies.

They’re also hard to track down and stop, offering Russia plausible deniability. Russian officials can operate covertly and through intermediaries, making it hard to find conclusive evidence directly implicating top Kremlin authorities.

It is often not clear if hackers are working with clear directions from Moscow or if they simply share sympathies with the Russian government and are acting independently.

A clear and present threat

Dutch authorities are so concerned about the possibility that its election could be manipulated that the interior minister announced that ballots will be counted by hand in the upcoming national election. Experts had warned that government computer systems were vulnerable to attack and disruption by state actors.

Likewise, the German government has advised of the possibility of a Russian cyberattack against the country’s federal elections. Russia is already suspected of hacking into the German Parliament’s computer network in 2015. German officials also suspect that Russia was behind a computer hack last November that resulted in 900,000 Germans temporarily losing internet and telephone service.

Putin has a powerful incentive to undermine German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been one of his most outspoken critics in Europe. She is also one of the strongest voices in favour of maintaining EU sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, who is running on a pro-EU platform ahead of French presidential elections in April and May, has accused Russian hackers of targeting him in an attempt to smear his candidacy. Richard Ferrand, the secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche party, has said that the campaign’s website and databases have been subject to “hundreds, if not thousands” of attacks from inside Russia.

An existential threat

Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, argues that Russian election interference and manipulation, if unchecked, could pose an “existential threat” to Western democracies.

European governments are taking various steps in response. They have tried to educate voters on how to identify fake news and have threatened retaliatory measures against Moscow if its subversive activities persist.

The EU has even created a team whose mission is to address “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns” by weeding out false or misleading online news.

Despite the various successes it can plausibly claim, election interference can also backfire on Russia. US intelligence agencies have traced the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer systems back to the highest levels of the Kremlin and before leaving office in January, President Barack Obama imposed a range of sanctions and other retaliatory measures on Russia.

Such public hacking and disinformation campaigns have further damaged its relations with the West. Russia will now be the primary suspect for any electoral problems or irregularities in the future.

With Brexit negotiations, the rise of anti-EU and anti-establishment political parties, and the uncertainty surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump, Europe already faces a precarious moment. But since Russian disinformation campaigns target the very foundations of liberal democracy, they represent something perhaps even more sinister, threatening, and potentially destructive than Europe’s many other troubles.

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Richard Maher is a Research Fellow, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at the European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Media literacy in a post-fact age

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY
February, 2017

Fake news is as old as the Internet. From the 1990s, I remember spam, scams, and ghost ship “rolling” petitions that sailed the white-font-on-black-background PINE and LYNX seas – almost as soon as the first E-list was compiled.

Spam couldn’t easily penetrate Usenet – the threaded online discussion Bulletin Boards, or BB ses that scientists used. When email lists proliferated, however, spamsters found ways to hop on board other people’s trains, at open relays.

Good e-lists relied on volunteer moderators (as the long-lived feminist PAR-L list still does)  but messages on even the best-intentioned lists often carried warnings about non-existent viruses that urged recipients to “send this to everyone you know.” Such scaremongering turned the fake news messages into viruses in themselves.

Those fake warnings often pretended to be from the FBI or Microsoft. Up until now, nobody has ever dared to disseminate nakedly false news from the address @POTUS, President Of The United States. The new @POTUS breaks ground every day. On January 24, #45 tweeted what he said was an Inauguration Day, January 20, crowd photo. The problem is that the photo’s time/date stamp said it was taken the next day, January 21, the day of the Women’s March on Washington.

An old gag says you can’t make this stuff up – except that the recent U.S. election proves that scammers do! We the people are barraged by click bait and propaganda, both online and off. Fraudsters abroad fabricate stories with the sole purpose of shocking people enough to entice them to click through to bogus stories – stories which, beyond doubt, influenced the US election.

@POTUS himself tweets an endless stream of 140-character fantasy headlines which, in Cold War days, we would have called propaganda. These days, we just call it advertising.

 

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SPOT THE FAKES

With online news accounting for so much of what we see and learn, a smart Internaut needs ways to assess the increasingly startling reports that other people share. Every published story usually carries some clues. As a journalist, I look at the reputation of the source of the story and the outlet that carries it. I search on the topic and see what other publications are saying. Lack of corroborating stories is usually a bad sign. And I try to check the facts, or find a fact-checker on the story.

Perhaps the longest-serving fact-checker on the Web is Snopes.com, which began in 1995 by checking urban legends and has evolved into checking news stories and celebrity claims. Started by two retired insurance workers, Snopes soon became a standard newsroom reference if you wanted to check a jarring story. Last December, Facebook signed a deal with Snopes to check the fake news circulating on member pages.

Now, says Kalev Leetaru, Snopes’ founders are divorcing, and the expanded Snopes site is part of the divorce case. Snopes is still a standard reference in newsrooms, he says, for situations like the recent case when the president’s spokesperson invented an imaginary Bowling Green Massacre to justify the travel ban on people from Muslim countries.

A more recent contender is MBFC, short for Media Bias Fact Check, which also provides lists of publications according to their left/right bias or reliable/unreliable status. MBFC even includes a list of
the 10 best fact-checking sites, such as Politifact, or the Annenberg Centre, or the Poynter Institute.

Fact checkers can help identify which news sites to avoid, and can be useful in online discussions. However, we seem to live in a post-fact or “alternative fact” political climate. Now let’s look at some recommendations for websites to include in order to get a wide perspective when an issue suddenly flares up.

Fans of democracy argue that, as a society, we need the whole news media ecology, including funding for major investigations as well as independent journalism sites, like FactsandOpinions.com. One major difference between Canada and the US is that Canada’s CRTC rejected core-cable status for SUN News, a kissing cousin to far right-wing Fox News in the US. Canadians have shown that much media savvy already.

In the US, a mere six companies control all the news media, outside of PBS – as Gemini Fox points out. She lists some independent outlets she finds reliable, such as Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!  and Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept. On Youtube, I like The Young Turks – youthful, insightful, insouciant, and literally Turks of Turkish descent. Bill Moyers also listed his top ten investigative sites on his blog.

Among mainstream media, Reuters News Service  stands out for Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler’s instruction to newsroom staff to cover the White House the way they cover governments such as “Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia, nations in which we sometimes encounter some combination of censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists.”

For what it’s worth, in my opinion most Americans would be amazed at the even-handed and thorough approach Canada’s CBC takes to news gathering. Business Insider found that Americans place most trust in British news sources, but rely on the likes of Fox and CNN for domestic news.

Pew Research Centre approaches the question another way, asking instead which news outlets are the more trusted. The Center found differences between liberals (who trusted 28 out of 36 news outlets) and conservatives, who trusted only 12 out of the 36 news organizations named.

Like anything else we see, what we observe depends largely on where we’re standing. Social media tend to reinforce our own attitudes, in that we see more of what we indicate we like. We need to treat our media diet like our food diet, aiming for variety as well as flavour and sustenance. We need to teach our children how to assess what they see onscreen, looking at source, content and context. As individuals, we need to follow a few trusted news sources (I like rabble.ca and CBC.ca), and keep a list of wildly inaccurate or politically unpalatable ones, like Breitbart.com And we can’t take them for granted.

News used to be the most important programming that local or national broadcasters could offer. These days, newspapers are thinner than thin mints. TV network websites promote entertainment or reality shows, and conceal news programming under the “More” button. In 2013, Jan Wong reported that Canada’s newsrooms had shed 10,000 jobs in the previous five years. Last December, Canada’s Public Policy Forum des politiques publique du Canada issued a report that warns Canada’s news media cannot survive their steeply dropping revenue. The report found that 225 weekly and 27 daily newspapers have merged or closed shop since 2010, in more than 210 federal ridings. Small market TV stations have closed. Newsrooms everywhere whittle away at staff and services. The PPF cites an estimated 30 percent reduction in journalism jobs since 2010.

In response, Public Policy Forum President Ed Greenspon convened a panel of experts including pollster Allan Gregg to recommend ways to save the industry. “The Shattered Mirror” calls on the federal government to support media in Canada in a dozen ways such as adjusting tax breaks for online advertising; allowing non-profit media to register as charities and thus be eligible for philanthropic funding; strengthening the Copyright Act; strengthening and expanding Canadian Press; establishing Indigenous journalism as a discipline; creating a legal advice service for investigative journalists, and establishing a Future of Journalism and Democracy Fund, with an immediate endowment of $100 million and annual deposits of taxes from Canadian advertisements placed in foreign online media.

There’s a reason American president #45 is furiously trying to control the news media, to the extent that Washington DC police have laid felony charges against six journalists who covered Inauguration Day protests.

And it’s the flip side of the reason that the US and Canadian constitutions protect freedom of speech. As former Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief Edward Greenspon put it: “Canada’s news media is in the midst of an existential crisis. So, therefore, is our democracy.”

Copyright Penney Kome 2017

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome here

Related works on F&O:

Fake News and Our Happiness Disorder, by Deborah Jones, Free Range  Column

Fake News: Déjà vu all over again, by Tom Regan, Seeking Orenda  Column

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Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The Russian government is not America’s friend

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
January 7, 2017

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government are not America’s friends. They are not friends of democracy, nor are they really interested in promoting any sense of peace in the world – at least a balanced peace. Russia is primarily interested in undermining Western democracy as much as it can without firing a shot … at the west. (Countries like the Ukraine and maybe the Baltic states, that’s a different matter.)

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Russian hacking of the US election is well known. But as the hearing on Capitol Hill showed this week, it’s not just computer hacks and digital break-ins that Putin is relying on. There is also the classic Russian tactic of disinformation (practiced by many nations but done particularly well by Russia) that it is using to promote its agenda around the world, often with the help of “useful idiots” (defined as “a person perceived as a propagandist for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who is used cynically by the leaders of the cause.”) These include right-wing pro-Trump sites that seek to undermine any legitimate reporting about Russia activities, and promote Trump’s position that Russia is being unfairly targeted.

How Russia is dealing with accusations against its troops and those of its ally, the Syrian government, in the recent siege of Aleppo provides a clear example of this tactic.

Russia’s propaganda machine has worked hard to influence opinion in the West about what happened Aleppo. This propaganda takes several forms – for instance stories that depict news about civilian deaths in Aleppo as made up by anti-Kremlin forces, often found on numerous pro-Kremlin and far-right sites. These sites constantly allege that videos shot in Aleppo, by nonpartisan international organizations that graphically depict the carnage in the city, never actually happened but were manufactured to undermine Russia and the Syrian government.

More interesting is how these Kremlin-generated stories have been picked up by right-wing and alt-Reich sites that supported Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election. Eager to echo anything of Trump’s positions, these sites have become vehicles for the Kremlin to promote its own version of the events.

If you really want to get to the main engine of Russian disinformation in the West, you need to look at RT, or Russia Today. Billing itself as a “news” channel, RT is little more than a mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin. It is owned lock, stock and barrel by the Russian government.

A quick Google search will reveal a trove of RT stories over the past year about how “corrupt corporate media” in the West is promoting fake news about civilian casualties in Aleppo. In contrast, RT features stories about how civilians are so happy to be freed from the grip of the “terrorists” after the Syrian government forces recaptured Aleppo that they are literarily dancing in the streets. You would hardly know any civilians were killed at all.

If Putin can create even a seed of doubt in people’s minds about what really happened, then legitimate news stories from or about Aleppo become suspect. This is part of the overall assault on journalism practiced not just by the Kremlin but by anyone who wants to make sure that its own version of the story is the main one, even if it is nothing more than a tissue of lies.

Friday’s story in the Washington Post, reporting that US intelligence agencies captured audio of senior Russian official celebrating the victory of Donald Trump, shows that these officials believe that Russia will now have a “useful idiot” in the White House, a prospect that should concern any American. And Trump’s response to the Russians interference, no doubt approved by Putin himself, of calling into question the work of his own intelligence officials, is worrisome.

Not to the Russians, though. Things could not have worked out better. Putin and his minions will continue to try and undermine Western democracies and their allies. Don’t be surprised if you start to see a lot more fake news in places like Canada, Britain, and European countries. Expect more hacking attacks. Putin is a self-serving egotist and brutal dictator, but he’s not dumb. He senses weakness. He knows that Russia really can’t take on the combined military strength of the West, so he must ty to weaken it in any way he can.

Putin wants sanctions relaxed so he and his friends can make more money. He wants to rebuild a greater Russia, without the West interfering with his plans for the Ukraine or Georgia, or with his menacing moves towards the Balkans. He wants his way and he will do what he can to accomplish that.

The only advice is to be alert. Believe nothing that comes out of Russia, or from its propaganda outlets like RT. If we who care about Western democracy want to protect our democracies from being turned upside down, the next few years (four to be exact starting January 20th with Trump’s inauguration) will be crucial.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Further reading:

Office of the Director of National Intelligence Statement on Declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections

From the news release: “On December 9, 2016, President Barack Obama directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review and produce a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections. We have completed this report and briefed President Obama as well as President-elect Trump and Congressional leadership. We declassified a version of this report for the public, consistent with our commitment to transparency while still protecting classified sources and methods.”  Read the entire declassified document here: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf

 

Related on F&O:

 

Why Putin Fears a President Clinton, TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA, October 15, 2016

Putin, Grand Master of the Great Game, awaits next opponentJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs, October 1, 2016

Insight: The road to Aleppo – how the West misread Putin, By Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Jonathan Landay and Maria Tsvetkova, February, 2016

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

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Fake News and Our Happiness Disorder

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
December, 2016

How do we “know” what we “know?”

Nope, this isn’t a trick question on an epistemology course. It’s the key to our lives, from the mundane (is that food safe to eat?) to social (can I trust that person?) to the most technical of calculations (how do I design a sound airplane?). Our world is built on evidence-based decision-making.

In democracies, we depend on having enough citizens who know about enough stuff to make enough smart decisions — based on the best evidence available — to keep us alive. We depend on having enough citizens willing  to confront problems and fix them. And if there’s anybody left who doubts that our democracies are in crisis, the events of 2016 dispelled our illusions.

Will democracy last? Some fear for this grand experiment; see this study showing a drop in support for the very concept. Its detractors might consider which system they’d prefer: Rule by royals? Tyranny by dictators? Authoritarianism posing as Communism? Personally, I agree with Winston Churchill, who considered democracy the least bad of the options. But our willingness to accept lies as facts — like the lies told during this year’s UK vote on Brexit and the American presidential election — could be democracy’s death knell.

Here’s why I think fake news is so widespread today: real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we refuse to embrace facts delivered as news.

The root cause of “Fake News” is deeper than the culprits most often blamed:  the venality of the deceivers, the glee of those who profit, manipulations by the Russians, distrust in traditional media, the gullibility of sheeple.

I contend that “Fake News” flourishes because we have a pandemic of Happiness Disorder.

Happiness is, obviously, a good thing. But happiness is neither real, nor achievable, if the only way we can feel happy is by turning a blind eye — especially when there’s a cliff in our road. Staring crises in the face is hardly happy-making — but ignoring a crisis is deadly. Democracy requires that enough of us keep watch to avoid driving off cliffs. Without enough people with clear sight — without some willingness to seek “knowledge” — where will we find ourselves?

©  Deborah Jones 2016

Return to Free Range

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

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Deborah Jones is a partner in Facts and Opinions.

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Fake News: Déjà vu all over again

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December 10, 2016

Image by Jon S/Flickr/Creative Commons

Image by Jon S/Flickr/Creative Commons

We’ve been here before you know.  Overwhelmed by fake news. Making important political and social decisions based on lies, half-truths and deliberate manipulation of facts, shaping them into something quite hideous. Perhaps even ignoring them all together. Denying they exist.

There really is nothing new.  Just different ways to twist and turn the facts.

A few reminders:

Remember the USS Maine? Sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898 allegedly by unknown assailants. It was the real dawn of “yellow journalism” when William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (yes, that Pulitzer) used their papers to print false stories of atrocities to whip up anger against the Spanish masters of Cuba. Thus, the Spanish-American war was created. Three months later the US had the Philippines, Guantanamo Bay and more or less control of Cuba. In 1976 a US naval commission ruled that the Maine’s sinking was a result of a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not a Spanish mine.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident. On August 2, 1964,  the USS Maddox was allegedly attacked by three North Vietnamese gunboats. The US claimed the Vietnamese fired first, but it was later disclosed that it was the US that fired first. Another incident was reported by the National Security Agency to have taken place on August 4. Both incidents were widely reported by the national media. But that second incident never happened. Yet Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution which gave President Lyndon G. Johnson the authority to intervene on the behalf of any southeast Asian nation threatened by “communist aggression.”

The babies in the incubators.  In 1991, the US was debating a resolution to go to war against Iraq for invading Kuwait. There were emotional statements on both sides. The outcome was unsure … until a young woman spoke at a US Congressional hearing, about watching Kuwaiti babies taken out of incubators so they could be sent to Baghdad for Iraqi babies. Politicians and the media were incensed, the debate swung in favor of war, and you know the rest. What only became known later was the young woman was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, that she hadn’t been in Kuwait in months, and the entire incident was a plan by the US PR firm Hill-Knowlton (who had been hired by the Kuwaiti government) to convince Congress to go to war. Not a single politician or media member had ever asked the young girl who she was or if she had indeed seen the incubator incident.

Niger yellow cake uranium. The entire 2nd Gulf War was a complete fabrication by the President George W. Bush administration, bought and sold by the US mainstream media, hook, and sinker. And in some cases, the Mainstream Media was actual source of the fake news (that’s you, New York Times).

Now here’s the thing about the fake news in these situations. These weren’t some teenagers in Macedonia pumping out fake news to conservatives trying to activate their confirmation bias and give them another reason to vote for Donald Trump, as happened in the 2016 election. Almost all of these fake news stories were promoted by the mainstream corporate media. In most of the above cases, after it was shown that the media had been manipulated by the government, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, deep soul-searching, seminars held in journalism schools, and promises that such failures would never happen again. But they did. Repeatedly.

The examples above are only four, but they are four important ones because the media’s role in promoting these fake news stories helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Iraqis.

So when I hear the mainstream media tut-tutting and wagging their fingers about the dangers of fake news, I find it a bit ironic.

One reason that this new strain of fake news is so effective, particularly with conservatives, is that over the years the media has helped promote fake news and sensationalism. This is partly why so many people distrust the media. Add in the speed of the Internet age, the reach of social media, and the determination of people who only want to hear news that confirms what they already mistakenly believe, and you have where we are now.

In the end the responsibility is not with the media but with us. It’s why we must do whatever we can to promote media literacy. On a personal level, my wife and I talk with our children about news stories, documentaries, even television ads, to help them understand how news is put together, and how that can be used to try to manipulate emotions (either by the government, politicians, talking heads, or even the reporters), and how advertising strives even harder to achieve the same effect.

We may be engaged in the most important social and political struggle of our time, in North America and globally. We are entering an age in which politicians have shown themselves more than willing to lie, and manipulate, and openly mock the truth. Their lies are quickly seized upon by fake news sites that promote the falsehoods, and the situation is often made even worse by the way the mainstream media also reports on the lies.

Finally, there is a need to hold both the mainstream corporate media and these fly-by-night fake news websites to task. Even if people don’t want to believe the truth, it’s important to keep putting the real facts out there, about issues like climate change, abortion, scientific inquiry, immigration, the loss of civil rights, police brutality, misogyny, the conflicts of interests of the president of the United States, regardless of the often virulent opposition from those on the Alt-Reich (or as the Associated Press prefers you would call them Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists, and racists).

That’s the real job of the media. And also of the informed citizen. It’s pretty hard to have one without the other.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

LINKS

Propaganda of the Spanish American War: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_of_the_Spanish%E2%80%93American_War

Who lied to whom? New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/03/31/who-lied-to-whom

When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators: http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p25s02-cogn.html

As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth, by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/us/fake-news-partisan-republican-democrat.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Related on F&O:

Fake News and Our Happiness Disorder, by Deborah Jones

Fake news is so widespread today because real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we refuse to embrace facts delivered as news.~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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