Lost in fake news
QUESTION 1: Why would people—often brilliant ones—create fake news?
Question 2: Why would supposedly intelligent and educated people believe and spread fake news?
Question 3: If someone spreads fake news in social media with the intention of “informing everybody”—does it mean he or she may be straying from The Truth?
Answer 1: People create fake news to gain power and to make money. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus defines “fake news” as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.” Wikipedia adds: “Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media… with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines…” And from Pope Francis’ Message (for World Communications Day 2018): “…fake news refers to the spreading of disinformation on line or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.”
That’s pretty clear—fake news generators aim to gain power by influencing public opinion. Plus, they make money twice—from the client who hires them to do the job, and from the so-called internet click revenue. Fake news fabricators use websites to run fake news, and these websites accept advertisers. Each time a reader clicks on an ad, money comes in for the website creator. Fake news creators are experts at making sensational headlines or “clickbaits”—for example, “Pope endorses Trump”—to attract readers “who want to know the truth”. Lies are big business, you see?
Answer 2: Even supposedly intelligent and educated people like some lawyers and doctors and university professors believe may unwittingly become purveyors of fake news. People have a conscious desire for true information, but due to carelessness or personal bias, they are prone to consume—and spread—false information. Messages may appeal to people because they respond to their own desires or prejudices, thus they not only accept such messages on faith, but also forward them without verification. Classic examples of these are fake news that either praise or lambast political candidates, dignitaries. and celebrities.
What is called the “illusory truth effect” also plays a huge part in the propagation of fake news. Recent research in psychology reveals that exposure to fake stories leaves a subtle impression each time. Experiments prove that each time we receive a forwarded false story on Facebook, and then receive the same multiple times from more friends and friends of friends, the story grows more familiar and that familiarity, according to the experts, casts the illusion of truth: “The illusory truth effect comes to play when we hear or read fake news claims repeated, no matter how ridiculous or illogical they sound.” Remember that law of propaganda attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” A piece of fake news is a lie, so….?
Answer 3: Yes, someone who spreads fake news in social media, even with the intention of “informing everybody”, may be straying from The Truth because he/she has become so anxious, contemptuous, angry, and emotionally fired up that he/she loses sight of what is good and doesn’t bother anymore to discern the data received in the light of Christ’s teachings. (That’s what you get for squandering your hours on social media). Pope Francis says “The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.”
If you’ve been dragged into participating in this fake news thing, is there an easy fix to the problem? It is correct to see it as a problem because one who is lost in the world of fake news has a divided heart. There is a sure fix but it may not be that easy: abstain from social media and reconnect with The Truth “I am the truth…” (John 12:6) until He makes you whole again. And that’s the truth.