Fake news: A fake issue?

Watching the Senate hearing and probe on fake news was disappointing on many levels. The commentary from the pundits may have been worse. From the hearing we went from the ridiculous—“Bloggers should be required to obtain government licenses”—to the harsh reality that “a law to combat fake news is censorship”.

The only things we did learn were already self-evident. Governments spread propaganda sometimes in the form of fake news to further its image and agenda. The political “opposition” uses fake news, to attempt to sway public opinion against the government and its policies. Politicians on both sides are “victims” of fake news, and they do not like it. Press and media can be purveyors of fake news to push its own agenda.

The bottom line of this “critical issue” appears to be that absolutely no one condones fake news, but everyone uses it as his or her personal tool.

Then, there are the self-proclaimed experts on fake news, saying things like, “We have long needed to discuss the problem of fake news.” Unfortunately, people like this are late to the party—a few thousand years late.

In the 13th century BC, Ramses the Great, pharaoh of Egypt, spread propaganda portraying the Battle of Kadesh as a stunning victory for the Egyptians. He depicted scenes of himself smiting his foes during the battle on the walls of nearly all his temples. Except, the written treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittites revealed that the battle was actually a stalemate. Or maybe that was the fake news.

In the mid-1700s, during the height of the Jacobite rebellion in Great Britain, printers printed fake news, reporting that King George II was ill, in an attempt to destabilize the establishment.

While “blogging” might be considered a modern development, the platform is electronic but the content is historic. Benjamin Franklin wrote fake news about murderous “scalping” Indians working with King George III in an effort to sway public opinion in favor of the American Revolution. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

In a recent message, Pope Francis said that fake and sensationalized news is a “very serious sin.” Interestingly, during the Middle Ages, there were conflicts between the Church and the European ruling class over control of certain states and territories. Conveniently, the Church produced a document in the 8th century known as “The Donation of Constantine.” Apparently, Emperor Constantine had transferred land and political control of these disputed territories to Pope Sylvester I in the fourth century because Sylvester allegedly cured him of leprosy. The Church would successfully use this document to assert control over various regions. In the 15th century this document was established as a complete forgery. Needless to say, the Church never gave the land back to its rightful owners.

The use of fake news is unethical. But a thousand hours of Senate hearings is not going to make it go away. Governments that depend on and need fake news propaganda are eventually going to be found out and discredited. The political opposition will never gain power for the same reason. News outlets that push fake news will fall victim to their own techniques and lose all credibility, like the boy who cried wolf. It is inevitable.

But the worst thing would be for the government to “protect the people” from fake news. Further, it is an issue that is actually unsolvable and, as such, may be a “fake issue.” No Filipino child’s hunger or health care improved as a result of the Senate hearing. And that is not fake news.

 

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