The legacies of the year 2016 include the introduction into the popular lexicon of the term “fake news”.
To be sure, “fake” is a more than apt description for media content fabricated by Macedonian teenagers looking to exploit the United States market for sensational nonsense.
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, “The most important fact to realise about this new term” is that “those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it”.
Indeed, the ongoing hullabaloo in US mainstream media over the notion that the Russians hacked the election in Trump’s favour via a sinister campaign of mass disinformation would itself appear to be a strong contender for the “fake news” category.
In a write-up of the findings of a December 2016 survey about fake news, the Pew Research Centre reports that 64 percent of American adults “say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events”.
Meanwhile, 23 percent claim to have either wittingly or unwittingly shared a fake news item.
Amid all of the uproar over fake news, Facebook – itself a principal news source for much of the global population – pledged to crack down on the phenomenon by permitting users to flag potentially phony stories. Flagged items will then be passed along to third-party fact checkers.
But just how effective can efforts to curb the proliferation of fake news be when the very function of the US establishment media is so often to peddle untruths?
While a few cases are generally written off as the exception to the rule, however, spin journalism is in fact par for the course. It’s hardly rocket science: Mainstream editorial lines reflect the interests of political and economic elite, and journalists are by and large reduced to doing the bidding of those elites under the facade of a free press.
There are also plenty of elements of “fakeness” in typical mainstream content promoting, for example, Israel as a beacon of democracy.
In a recent article for Harper’s Magazine, Washington editor Andrew Cockburn argues that the “new Red Scare” has proved a predictable boon for US defence spending, despite the fact that “Russia’s defence budget is roughly one tenth of America’s, and that its military often cannot afford the latest weapons Russian manufacturers offer for export”.
Reality, however, has little bearing on the profit-oriented logic of the military-industrial complex or the priorities of the US armed forces – thanks to which, Cockburn writes, “actual defence needs take second place to more urgent concerns, such as the perennial interservice battle for budget share”.
In other words, it seems that Macedonian teenagers aren’t the only ones capable of turning a profit from “fake news”.
The enduring danger of hyper-militarisation, of course, is that we’ll end up accidentally obliterating ourselves in the interest of financial gain – a prospect that appears ever more plausible given the impending US president’s insistence that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability”.
Unfortunately, some news is all too real.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘2016 and the truth behind fake news’.