By I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as have many people, I expect. The usual reaction is to blame the Russians for spreading it. And while the Russians are clearly culpable, there is much more to it. It should be easy to ignore fake news because it should be obvious that it’s wrong, but that isn’t the case anymore. Why not?
Unfortunately there are now so many sources of fake news that people have great difficulty sorting the reality from the bullshit. The right-wing media have a lot to answer for here. By tapping into and propagating conspiracy theories and outright lies they’ve created a fertile ground for fake news to spread. Less polarised media are not entirely blame-free either. Their unwillingness to take on and expose the lies for what they are has helped those lies to spread unchecked.
The fossil fuel companies, spearheaded by that nadir of morality, ExxonMobil, have also worked to spread disinformation. They’ve created an incredibly dangerous distrust of science which I expect will blow up in their faces soon, as they themselves are founded upon technology and require science in order to operate.
Most of the wealthiest companies and individuals routinely construct elaborate lies about their income so as to evade paying their fair share of tax, or any tax at all — tax that would help support the country that lets them make all that money. They have become the ultimate parasites.
The Western Intelligence community has also undermined truth and trust by repeatedly lying about many, many things. For decades they’ve denied that they have been spying upon everybody, but were exposed by Edward Snowden who is running for his life as reward for his heroism. They’ve been routinely lying about wars, such the entirely faked up reasons for the Iraq invasion, and now Syria in which we’re led to believe that we are the good guys fighting evilly brutal ISIS, when it turns out we are the bad guys who have set up ISIS as a tool to overthrow the democratically elected government of Syria. There are many others, such as lying about the Gulf of Tonkin so USA, and then we, could get into the Vietnam War, lying about bombing raids on our ally Cambodia (which triggered Pol Pot’s murderous spree), USA lying about successive democratically elected governments in South America so that they could be brutally destroyed. No wonder people distrust our spooks and military.
Our politicians deserve special mention as perhaps the most untrustworthy pack of liars in Australia’s history. Tony Abbott really brought this home with his ability to constantly lie, apparently without shame. Although, to be fair, he was to some degree emulating his hero John Howard, also an unmitigated liar, who is perhaps the only Australian politician to have been called a “lying little rodent” by his own party. Greg Hunt also ushered in a new era of lies, straightfacedly lying day after day when he was Minister for the Environment. Malcolm Turnbull constantly uses spin and lies for everything from promising not to throw money away on Adani’s Carmichael mine, to the Centrelink debacle, to the fake “debt crisis” (which paradoxically seems to be less important as it gets bigger), to blaming renewable energy for the blackouts in South Australia. Both the main parties collaborated in the lies about refugees, calling them “illegal” and compounding lies with more lies to rationalise torturing innocent men, women, and children. And then there are the constant, continuing problems of so many politicians inappropriately blowing vast amounts of taxpayer money on themselves and their pathetic lies in covering up. Their lies are so numerous and so common that it is difficult to keep track of them all. In the USA Trump is their Tony Abbott, lying with an ease that must make Abbott positively green with envy. In Britain the shallow, lying politicians who tried to manipulate the public saw it all unexpectedly come undone with BREXIT.
Politicians and other powerful people are fond of giving Orwellian names to things, so that they sound like they are the opposite of what they really are. USA is infamous for this kind of thing, for instance “Citizens United” actually crushed citizen-based politics. (I’m sure people in the comments will remind me of similarly disguised names of Australian projects. I know they exist, but can’t think of them just now.) Money spent supposedly to save the reef went instead to cane farmers, who are one of its worst enemies (ostensibly the money was to reduce their pollution of the waterways, but as far as I know, it was completely unregulated and could have been spent on Chrissy pressies for their kids).
So, with all these lies from so many directions, is it any surprise that the new wave of fake news has found such fertile soil in which to grow? A large part of the population doesn’t believe any of the standard sources of information anymore. People can’t be blamed for that. The normal sources genuinely aren’t trustworthy. It’s like the story of the little boy who cried wolf, but now played out on a world stage.
How can it be fixed? Simple. They have to stop lying. Of course that’s not so easy — many of those mentioned above are completely addicted to their lies. They have no intention of stopping. So I ask again, how can it be fixed? I guess we have to stop their lies. We have to show them that their lies have real consequences.