“Fake News” Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

For whatever strange reason, the entire failed pundit class became interested in the notion of purging so-called “fake news” all at once, immediately following an election that produced an outcome they despise. I’m sure it was just a big coincidence that they all suddenly coalesced around this potential solution.

Back in August I wrote on the folly of obsequiously begging Silicon Valley tech titans to attain social progress on your behalf. That was in the context of the craze around curtailing so-called “targeted harassment” on Twitter, but the same concept applies here: if you’re requesting that Mark Zuckerberg and @jack use the blunt instruments of censure and extirpation to suppress phenomena you dislike, you’re ensuring that the phenomena won’t actually be curtailed. It will just manifest elsewhere. You’re also ensuring that people with conspiratorial inclinations will assume that the “powers that be” are maliciously restricting their ability to consume information, thus increasing their level of alienation from the existing political/media order. You’re also demanding that these tech princes be endowed with extraordinary power — they already have a ton, but you want them to have more, and you want them to exert their power in service of removing certain types of information from the free internet. That’s what you want done.

These are fundamentally authoritarian impulses. Maybe not “authoritarian” in the sense of explicitly violating citizens’ civil liberties — authoritarian in a softer, but still insidious, sense. You want these all-knowing tech demigods to solve social problems for you, instead of undertaking the hard work of solving them yourself. How to solve them? How about helping to remake presently-loathed institutions such that they’re not automatically distrusted by wide swathes of the populace. That might help. How about trying to reform the political system such that the anxieties of ordinary people are actually addressed substantively, so they don’t feel the need to latch onto “fake news” floating out there in cyberspace to explain why they are incredibly disillusioned.

I can also guarantee you, with 100% certainty, that the specter of “fake news” will be wielded as an ideological cudgel. I already have evidence for this, as the Washington Post has published a ridiculous report citing a team of unvetted “independent researchers” who have produced “a list” (love that neo-McCarthyite sloganeering) of all the worst offenders on the internet in terms of propagating “fake news” at the behest of sinister Russian agitators.

Included on the list that the Washington Post trumpeted, and which was breathlessly promoted by cartoonish political elites such as Neera Tanden, are several reputable media outlets of longstanding provenance that happen to diverge from the mainstream pundit consensus, and are therefore viewed as unconscionable:

That’s just a small selection. You’ll notice that the “blacklisted” media entities include examples from both the left and right, proving that the operative ideological function of the “fake news” crusade is about discrediting media that deviates from the establishmentarian consensus, rather than enforcing any kind of traditionally “ideological” goal in the sense of the hoary liberal/conservative dichotomy.

That will be the function of the coming “fake news” expurgation campaign — not to instate any kind of objective measures of determining what is “fake” news and what is “real,” but mandating conformity, and punishing those who defy conformist standards.

If these people were sincerely interested in doing away with “fake news,” the first thing to do would be to look inward. They would be reprimanding many of their own esteemed colleagues and demanding that they permanently withdraw from public life. But of course they won’t do this, even though there was plenty of flagrant misinformation propagated by the more conventional “mainstream” press over the course of this election cycle — you won’t see the Washington Post demand that those responsible be purged.

Furthermore, the Washington Post itself propagated a veritable avalanche of fake news, notably by way of its lunatic “columnist” Anne Applebaum, who repeatedly spread debunked and fake conspiracies that Trump was a knowing conspirator of the Russian intelligence apparatus.

Joy Reid of MSNBC spread one of the most egregious examples of fake news that I have ever seen, but she never retracted it or apologized, and (to the best of my knowledge) was never sanctioned by MSNBC higher-ups. Her fakery was then amplified by neoconservative speechwriter and Hillary supporter David Frum.

Much like the word “terrorism,” the phrase “fake news” will be manipulated to accord with whatever pre-existing ideological commitments its newfound opponents already espouse. There really is a problem with false information circulating on the internet, but the main perpetrators are failed media elites.