Fake news on an upswing, thanks to a president
October 5, 2017

While fake news has been a menace the public has had to contend with probably ever since men began to communicate with each other, it has recently been taken to a different level, mainly by the style of functioning of the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. M. R. Dua has more

Fake news, which can be described as attempts to mislead the public, is probably as old as communication. However, it has recently been making news, so to speak, mainly because of the style of campaigning and also subsequent comments and statements by USA’s President Donald J. Trump. As the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald Trump’s campaign was studded with unsavoury, offensive, even defamatory remarks against national leaders and institutions, the then Obama administration’s policies, and political, social and cultural organisations, which were largely unsubstantiated.

On another front, according to a Russian media expert, Peter Pomerantsev, two news outlets on the Kremlin payroll, RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik, churn out stories such as Black Lives Matter that create protests and social tensions.

FakeNews_Dua

John Pantalone, associate professor of Journalism and Programme chair at the University of Rhode Island (URI), defines fake news as “a deliberate effort to mislead, and the Internet has magnified it, because it’s an open highway—anyone can get on. It makes (one) crazy”. Noted media scholar Renee Hobbs, professor of Communication Studies at the Harrington School of Communication and Media Studies in Phoenix, Arizona, has categorised fake news into six types: disinformation, hoaxes, propaganda, satire /parody, partisanship, and inaccuracies in journalism.

“Fake news lumps together all of those different kinds of information without considering the purposes, the motives and the outcomes,” says Hobbs. Yet another URI scholar, Scott Kushner, believes “it’s really a slippery concept, and the reason it’s so is because it means different things to different people”.

In the USA, many followers of TV news channels, including Fox News and MNSBC, told this writer that the channels often transmit stories that are less than credible.

In India, too, there are many newspapers, magazines and journals that purvey news that is incorrect, based on rumours, spin, and everything else that exists for reasons beyond the intrinsic value of disseminating truth. The Registrar of Newspapers of India has mentioned in annual reports that such publications appear and disappear without anyone even noticing.

Meanwhile, even after having taken oath as USA’s 45th president, Donald Trump keeps up his habit of throwing up unsupported, whimsical comments and has catapulted the ‘fake news’ culture into active circulation. The good news is, newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and many websites like factcheck.org and ask.com, as also sites like Huzlers, Stuppid, World Daily News Report and others, keep exposing these untruths and half-truths.

(The writer, now living in California, US, is a professor and former head of the Journalism Department at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.)

July – September 2017