Skepticism can be a funny thing. When applied correctly and constructively, it can help us understand different perspectives, and expand our understanding of the world. On the other hand, when used in, let’s say “less prudent” ways, it can lead to climate change denial, flat-earth theorists, and birthers. Lately, the prevalence of so-called “fake news” (which the Guardian wordily defines as “a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically”) has sparked a supposed resurgence in skepticism of news media from us common folk. Whenever a suspicious story pops up on a Facebook feed, dozens of valiant guardians of journalistic integrity are quick to scream “FAKE NEWS”, ocassionally while going on some tirade about the corrupt media/government/Secretive Reptilian Elitist Liberal Commie Nazi Illuminati. Man, I love having an informed populace.
Mean-spirited snark aside, it’s obviously a good thing that people are gaining a healthy skepticism of the media. Especially in this age of corporate media ownership making the distribution of information a for-profit industry, to say nothing of news organizations like Breitbart and Rebel Media (WHOOPS, DID MY BIAS JUST SHOW?), who peddle misinformation at a rate that would make Joseph McCarthy jealous.
With that said, I’m gonna put on my devil’s advocate hat for a minute. Here’s why mistrusting our soulless corporate overlords is a bad thing.
So, for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to look at one specific person’s use of the term “fake news”, and how it’s a misleading, and even harmful way of using it. This person, of course, is none other than everybody’s favourite cartoon character and part-time President of the United States of America: Donald Trump.
Yeah, we’re all sick of him, but he’s an easy target, and he’s one of the most important people on Planet Earth, for better or for worse. So suck it up, buttercup, we’re going in.
Donald Trump has made a very liberal use (pun intended) of the term “fake news”, which one would expect from somebody who’s not been treated with a whole lot of reverence by the press.
Media Matters has compiled a list of instances where the president has called something “fake news”. I’m going to save us all some time and sanity and only show off two.
You may recognize those two tweets as being, among other things, completely false (Ironically enough). Not having opinion polls go your way does not mean that they are falsified, it just means that you may not be doing that good of a job as president. Likewise, evidence is mounting that that he may not be telling the truth about his relationship to Russia. Calling news organizations out on “fake news” that isn’t actually fake doesn’t do anything to promote the questioning of corporate media. All it does, (Especially in this case, what with Trump’s influence) is encourage more willful ignorance among those who believe him, and tarnish the validity of accusations of fake news in general. Fake news is supposed to be something to scrutinize and evaluate. It’s not a trump card (heh) that you use as a punchline whenever a reporter or a pollster says something that hurts your feelings.
Media Matters’ List: