Fake News, a look back and I made you look
(lecture notes for How to Write and Read Fake News: Journullism in the Age of Trump)
[while staring out, wait till class quiets down, then begin with soft certainty.]
“Fake News” is all the buzz on Buzzfeed and has all of social media atwitter, which raises some big questions: Is any of this fake news really new? And if not, when did this all start? And, most importantly, if this scurrilous fad of shameless falsification is the new normal for the news biz, how do I make money off it?
First, a brief and arbitrarily excerpted history:
Yes, fake news is, no doubt, as old as news itself. However, as you can see, not all fake news is fake in quite the same way. Some make fake news to entertain, but others are part of wave of what we can call (and I will call) popular propaganda (propaganda for the people by the people!) For our purposes, let’s distinguish between 6 types of fake news. The chief distinguishing feature of these forms is also the hardest to know for sure: the intent of its creator.
6 Forms of Fake News
Fantasy Fake: The otherworldly stories of Bat Boy and Elvis sightings from Weekly World News, Enquirer, et cetera. This is fake news designed to entertain. (Incidentally, it’s some of the most carefully wrought from a legal perspective — though that’s not exactly the full story.)
Funny Fake: Good Ol’ Satire, as in The Onion, The Daily Show, National Lampoon, The Oxford Mutton Chops, The Congressional Reporter, Bunk Magazine, et cetera. This is fake news designed to entertain, but with a slant, a point of view.
Fony Fake: Hoaxes designed to prank or punk the foolish and entertain the bored. Like Funny Fake, these Fony Fake stories may ape the forms and styles of news, but like Fantasy Fake, they’re more interested in offering diversions to their audiences than critically sending up the fourth estate. Think: War of the Worlds. People pretending to be Spencer Pratt.
Fallacious Fake: (propaganda lite) These misleading or sensationalized news whose job it is to rile-up and whose primary color is yellow. 24-hour news channels (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, PBS Kids) can trip or dive into this bog as can government press offices. (Can be misinformation or disinformation, on the Habermas scale.)
Flat Fake: (full-strength propaganda) A more direct form of propaganda, this news pretends to be satire, even posts on sites marked as fake news outlets, but it’s not particularly funny. In fact, it’s not trying to make people laugh but instead to make people click on the link, Like, ReTweet, and share it for the generation of ad revenue. (ex., Pope Endorses Trump — not exactly a knee-slapper).
фальшивка Fake (Falshivka Fake): (propaganda de ruski) Fake news originating in Moscow.
In the recent election, these last two forms of fake apparently ruled the day. Now, if all we had to worry about were the first four, the world of journalism would merely entail a bit of sniffing and sifting, some basic fact-checking, and a dose of healthy skepticism. But the new wave of reactionary response — in which any and all objectionable journalism is called fake — creates a media ecosphere so toxic that we all need to walk around with our Beijing breathing masks, which may also be fake, btw, if reports can be believed.
Of course, any propagandist worth their ink is well-versed in these techniques, and this list doesn’t include government censorship. What’s different here is primarily the ease with which the average citizen can create a real fake and likewise spread the fake whole cloth (or in scraps) through the Interwebs, following the long-standing low-tech networks known as gossip and rumour.
In America, at least, the crisis has reached the boiling point — or the “overflowing bubbling mess spilling out on the range because we forgot we were making rice while we took a quick break to smoke out”… point. So what’s beneath all this? (pause) Perhaps it’s that partisan news chasm that’s been forming for decades. Look for a moment at all these yellow circles:
I have no idea what they represent, but one thing’s for certain: We’re not gonna win BINGO with this card.
Consider the partisan skewing of trust, the increased faith in either politically charged or satirical news outlets, the lack of faith in public television — all these signs point toward the demolition of a social value in fair and “objective” news outlets. (Auto-correct won’t even let me write “objective” without the scarequotes.)
And this is not a new trend. (Pause portentously)
(or pretentiously) (or both.)
Add to that the ability to share news stories with a simple click, and you’ve got a recipe for our contemporary fake news extravaganza!
But in the spirit of togetherness, let’s stop all this moralizing and make news fake again!
(End with some evidence or an interesting anecdote, song lyrics.)
(wait for applause to die down.)
(pick mic up again, make sure it’s okay)
(go get drinks with Talan.)
(hire TA to grade midterm.)
References for the Timeline:
Scandals in American History. By Alan Bisbort
The Dissident Press: Alternative Journalism in American History. by Lauren Kessler
The Martians Have Landed! A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes. By Robert Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford
The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impacts of Fake News. Ed. by Amarnath Amarasingam
The Real History of Fake News by David Uberti