Determining what is “fake news”. What is “real news”?


All Writings, Observations / Monday, February 27th, 2017

The phrase “fake news” has become popular in recent times.  In the year 2016, another related phrase “post truth” became popular.  Outside of the political world, there is much that is happening which makes the appearance and use of these phrases timely and legitimate.  A consideration of what is behind these ideas will help us appreciate some of the existing complexity.

Real and Fake
Real and Fake

Listed are 4 important factors that, to my mind, affect the news information generated on this day.  These factors affect the perspective of both, those producing content and those receiving it:

  1. A blend of news and views
  2. Intent behind spreading information
  3. Apprehensions due to existing situations
  4. The choice to believe

Presented henceforth is a consideration of each factor.

A blend of news and views

Nearly all the news today is an expression of views.  Just how powerful this factor is, would be easy to underestimate.  The selection of an item, choosing what footage to show, how the studio or field reporter covers it – it might all seem as an accident.  In the rush of the moment, and in the haste of being the first or only one to inform it is entirely possible to not have time to reflect on the implications of spoken words.

It is almost expected that, the one watching the news would not have the power to process through and analyze what is being presented.  With such an interconnected world and multi-tasking, people are easily found in a half-distracted state.  Habitually our minds are only partially focused on a single thing.  As a result, each piece of information is going through multiple stages of interpretation.  Views are quickly formed, shared, and changed.  How much do pre-existing beliefs affect any piece of information is again, easy to underestimate.

Later research might confirm or dispel the view, but that depends on factors such as time and interest.  Any immediate conclusions could prove unreliable.

To separate views from news is difficult.  When there is a news of a place and people from a distant unknown, the view of the presenter quickly shapes the ignorance of the viewer what the information means.  For instance, if there is a news of a distant island touted as a perfect holiday destination, a viewer might quickly think of it at least worthy of consideration.  Later research might confirm or dispel the view, but that depends on factors such as time and interest.  Any immediate conclusions could prove unreliable.

Intent behind spreading information

If information were not spread with intent, it would simply be idle talk.  The volume of information generated and its speed make it difficult to judge the intent.  For this reason, it has become fashionable to label a news source or a person to be so-and-so.  Labeling simplifies understanding, but it could easily also block out important considerations such as potential for discussion.  To stay safe, labeling persists.  So people are Democrats, Republicans, Comedians, Thinkers, Christians, Muslims etc.

The source of funding and the intent of the funder surely have been recognized as crucial criteria for judging the intent of the news presenters.  As situations around the world show deterioration, there are more important considerations than money.  What prompts a reporter to put his or her life in danger to make sure that, a matter is reported accurately?  While some things can be drama, some accidents cannot be rehearsed.  Difficult to say with the amount of brazen lying and concealed facts we have seen exposed.

It has become safer to take the stance not to trust those put in the position of trust.

We do find one news source attacking another.  We find lying with such conviction that, it is impossible to judge on first impressions.  And once a judgment has been made, without adequate evidence to the contrary, all further interactions are terminated…be it anyone or anything!

Apprehensions due to existing situations

The matter of apprehensions is decidedly significant.  Not everyone is attuned to be apprehensive about the right matters.  In a prevailing sense of insecurity, many people might simply wish to bury their head in the sand and continue on as though it were business-as-usual.  While their words and actions impart calmness, it is also true that complacency may never be far.  This would be the criticism against the ex-president, Barack Obama.  This can be seen in the cases of why Brexit vote came through, why Donald Trump gained the U.S. presidency, the rise of Narendra Modi and BJP in India, the rise of nationalist parties in France, Germany, Austria and other EU countries.

An unwillingness to be apprehensive to stay unperturbed is considered a strength.  However, it is precisely this quality that dulls the leaders into complacency.  Just how much load a leader has to carry if he is truly aware of his responsibilities!  People who criticize do not realize.  In these fast changing times and with social media fueling the rise of individualism, it is commendable that someone should want the responsibility, not just the power of authority.  No one is capable of providing the level of satisfaction that people demand today.  Democratic processes require leaders to speak pleasingly to the majorities.  Social fragmentation is pushing human society in the direction of state and national fragmentation.  The idea of perfect solutions appealing to all is, only a dream now.

Leaders – those who are still seen and respected as such – are required to make difficult decisions.  Those decisions could even be unprecedented!  Why?  For the reason that we are living in a world that is experiencing situations and inventions that never existed before in human history, and not on the scale they exist now.  A simple fact is, how the Internet has changed the world.

Apprehension of what might happen shapes existing news.  If a concern is voiced, due to an understanding of existing threats, it would be easy to dismiss it as “fake news”.

We live in a strange world.  If something happens even at the local level, national leaders are quickly blamed as though they are responsible for personally surveilling the streets of a city.  And if they fail to appreciate the existence of a threat, and don’t want people to panic, then again they are blamed.  These humans are expected to have superpowers!  When leaders voices his concerns or apprehensions, critics and skeptics quickly take them to task.  If they fail to voice their concerns, they are accused of negligence.  There really are significant existing issues, and most people do not want to think about them.  It helps them sleep at night.  A concerned leader does not have this luxury.

The choice to believe

The choice to believe is the most powerful factor in what constitutes “real” or “fake” news.  The times we are living in, people would feel that it is not enough to be informed of something after it happens.  People actually want to have the power to predict the outcome of developing situations.  When those predictions come true, seemingly stupid decisions are legitimized.

My mind is drawn to the recent government decision to demonetize Rs. 500 and 1000 denomination currency in India.  The entire focus of the resulting narrative has been on the economic impact of this decision because, that is what people find themselves most concerned with.  On the other hand, it is easy to ignore the existing political and religious situation around the world.  Perhaps it is the intent of the government to keep control and prevent an uprising in any form.  Controlling money is a form of control the government can exercise without resorting to actual physical violence.

It is clear, people resist control.  And practically, it would translate to people resisting government.  But no one is considering, what would happen if government weakens?  What if the people achieve their desire for freedom from government control?  Who will be responsible for the safety of the people?

Fake news is a menace, and we hold those in power responsible.  However, do we show the same care in personal dealings with those close to us!  A very responsible news reporter might casually gossip about a coworker.  And that little gossip could ruin someone’s reputation.  To that person, his or her reputation might be the most important thing; more important than national security.

People expressing opinion without proportionate responsibility can easily contribute to fake news.

If we as mankind continue to go on the way we are on, governments will weaken even further.  The consequence of weakened government authority is going to be harm to those very people who mock it, ridicule it, find fault in it without regard for consequence.  Few minutes of fame, and the damage is significant!

Conclusion

We do not fully realize the significance of the times we are living in.  I have complete confidence, even if human society should fail, the Creator will not fail.  He will not let the situation get to the point that, He can no longer control it.  Such a thing is not possible, for the Almighty is not a mere man.  The One by whose will all things have come into existence and continue, is a power and authority above any news, any expectation, any estimation.  When He speaks, it will be truth beyond denial.

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