Fake News

image courtesy of Google Images

image courtesy of Google Images

Danny Marrone, Staff Writer

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A free press is a paramount component of any flourishing democracy; it is only by the dissemination of factual information that a nation’s electorate can remain informed and subsequently perform its civic duties. Those of you who have paid any attention to mainstream news outlets in the past few months will no doubt recognize the term. Oxford Dictionaries dubbed “post-truth” the 2016 Word of the Year: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

From the unsubstantiated claims of a vile chant at a Trump rally  to the “Pizzagate scandal”, proselytized via Twitter by Trump’s pick for National Security adviser, General Michael Flynn, accusing Hillary Clinton of running a child trafficking ring out of the basement of a Washington D.C. pizzeria, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are brimming with such outrageous claims. While this sounds laughably absurd, it has dangerous reverberations beyond the world of the internet. The “Pizzagate” promulgation quickly took a dark turn and actually lead to the pizzeria in question getting shot up by a man who sought to “investigate” the matter. On the less extreme end of the spectrum (though no less pertinent), it is said to have greatly influenced the 2016 election. Despite accusations from both sides, neither Republicans nor Democrats have a monopoly on accepting objectively false or deliberately misleading information.

An attempt at tracing the etymological roots of the term “fake news” reveals its prevalence in American political discourse since our nation’s conception. Ask your American history teacher and they will tell you, with a sardonic chuckle, of the many vulgar and absurd accusations printed in accredited news publications across the country during the election of 1800 (to choose but one of several examples). Those readers of a more sophomoric disposition will find the aforementioned “fake news” to live well up to the standards set by today’s most raunchy comedians.

A recent Pew Research poll found that “A majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media, and 18% do so often.” This will have a litany of implications for the public, the media and the incoming Trump administration. In 2017 the mainstream media must bear the Sisyphean burden of fact-checking endless streams of nonsense comparable to the examples in the previous paragraph. Just this past Sunday (January 22nd), the Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, stated on Meet The Press that the unsubstantiated (and empirically false) claims, posited by President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, constituted what she terms “alternative facts.” An incredulous Chuck Todd retorted that “alternative facts are not facts, they are falsehoods.” This attempt (whether intentional or otherwise) will dichotomize the information espoused by the Trump Administration, and that of the mainstream media, creating either a misinformed and indignant, or uninformed and insouciant, electorate; it is up to one’s own conscience to decide which of the two is more catastrophic for a democracy.

Although it is easy to give into hopelessness, the picture is not as bleak as it seems, particularly when it is viewed in its historical context (credulity is an inextricable component of the human condition); that is not to say, however, that there are not grave concerns that we now face. Consumers will now be forced to navigate a Labyrinth of conflicting information, further exacerbating the divide.

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