All this talk about fake news brings to my mind a picture of people in glass houses frantically throwing stones. The fact is that many of those complaining about fake news, especially those dominating our mainstream media, are guilty of promoting fake news – and have done it for years.
I can’t help thinking what really upsets them, is that their readership may be becoming a bit more critical and looking for other sources of news. They are trying to poison the water.
Edward Snowden’s interview from last December 13 is very relevant here. The above video is just a clip from the full video where he talks about fake news – why it’s happening and what to do about it. I really like his conclusions:
“The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other. The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular.”
This really is a time when we have to oppose attempts to limit our access to information. We must not allow the political and media elite to tell us what we can and cannot read and view. We must not allow them to tell us that some news sources are “out of bounds.” We must not allow them to put blinkers on us.
Alternative media only part of the answer
Sure, accessing alternative new sources is not the full answer – it is only part of the answer. All news sources have a bias, an agenda. For the unthinking person, the solution might be to choose the news source which confirms their own bias or agenda. But that is really unthinking – and it certainly is not a defense against fake news. Quite the opposite. The unthinking acceptance of fake news only encourages it.
No, the answer is to resort to critical thinking. By recognising that all sources may be guilty of fake news – and all news sources have a bias and agenda – we can start thinking for ourselves. We develop the skills of listening and viewing these sources critically. Balancing the information from one source against another. Thinking about the credibility of news stories and the sources they rely on. Recognising bias and false news when we come across it.
Moving towards censorship?
Unfortunately, the political and media elite are working hard to discredit alternative news sources. And their attempts are determined, serious and occurring at a high level. It is hard to envisage truly democratic countries accepting the sort of censorship this seems to be promoting. But have a read of “Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s Left, Right and Russia.” Produced by the right-wing Henry Jackson Society this report actually advocates a range of extreme measures, including legislation, controlling the media appearances of politicians and the deliberate intensive undermining of the credibility of “non-approve” news media.
I have seen local journalists actually advocating measures as if they are lifted unchanged from this document – so much for a professional approach to their occupation. And this approach is inherent in the recently adopted resolution of the European parliament on the media and “anti EU-propaganda.”
It is hard to see how such censorship could even be effective in the age of the internet. But the incessant propaganda about false news and attempts to discredit alternative news sources – not for the news they carry but just because they are alternative – is encouraging forms of self-censoring for many individuals. People are being encouraged to reject information because it is from an alternative new source, and not because of the information itself. They are being encouraged into wearing blinkers.
A simple exercise. How many time do you see a comment or piece of information on social media rejected out of hand because it was reported on RT, or another alternative news source? Then compare that with the number of times you have seen similar rejections because the report was carried by CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, etc. Yet all those news media are just as capable of carrying false news as each other. One has only to have followed the US Presidential elections or the Syrian war to recognise that.
The full interview of Edwards Snowden by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Snowden’s answers to Twitter questions is well worth watching. He is a very intelligent man and should not be ignored.
Here is the full video.
Again it is very much a matter of “reader beware.” We have to stop trusting news sources just because they are “mainstream”.”official,” or “approved.” We have to resist the pressure for self-censorship and the wearing of blinkers that the current political and media elite are promoting.
We should be unafraid and should take advantage of all the sources available to us in this age of the internet.
And, above all, we have to develop and protect our critical thinking skills so that we can use this media – mainstream and alternative – wisely.