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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Most Troubling Thing About "Fake News"

As a professional communicator, I am well aware that our primary social institutions both make and distribute fake news.

Politicians do it. What is political messaging, really, if not the promulgation of a narrative that twists the facts in service of an agenda?

Governments do it. It's called "disinformation," "psychological operations," and "propaganda."

The news does it. We don't need to go into that. Survey after survey shows that only a minute percentage of Americans actually trust the mainstream media.

The alternative news does it too, on both sides. Let's be honest; just because a "citizen journalist" produced a story, that doesn't make it more believable.

Magazines do it. Who do you think is promoting "new and stylish" products but corporate sponsors, working through celebrities who in turn hire very cool PR people?

Music promoters do it, obviously. As beautifully as you sing in the shower, just being good at what you do isn't going to get you a record deal (or whatever they call it nowadays). In fact, a great many untalented people have their songs played over and over again until we "decide" that we really like them.

Want to introduce the next big product craze? Have you invented tomorrow's "must-have?" You'll have to get into Best Buy or Target or Staples or Costco. And how do you get there? Well it sure helps if you're an "Oprah's Favorite" pick, or if you've made an appearance on "Shark Tank."

Who gets to be a "supermodel?" Which actors and actresses become household names?

What about the medicine your doctor is suggesting you take? Are they at all influenced by the free samples they've received this month?

The most troubling thing about "fake news" is not that some people deliberately craft it in order to make a buck, gain legitimacy, get elected, or even stir up a needless war.  That stuff is pretty much a given.

No, what is troubling now is how effective "fake news" producers have been at:
  • inventing the term;
  • creating fake news themselves;
  • convincing other people to believe it;
  • positioning non-fake news providers as purveyors of same; and
  • instigating ordinary, unbiased people to fear and loathe anybody branded as a "fake news" provider.

We Americans may not agree on everything. But we must agree to unite on this.

The First Amendment isn't up for debate.

You are free to disagree with me, but you can't label me a criminal because I will not go along with your cause.

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All opinions my own.