Fake news

“Federal lawmakers on Wednesday released samples of 3,000 Facebook ads purchased by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. The ads conveyed the wide range of influence Russian-linked groups tried to enact on Americans…”

Let’s zoom out in order to gain some perspective over all this.

Fake news are defined by Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries as “false reports of events, written and read on websites“.

The way I see it, “fake news” have a lot in common with counterfeit currency.
In more ways than one!

First of all, most money in current use is ‘fiat money’.
We are dealing with either printed pieces of paper or otherwise useless pieces of metal.
We ‘trust’ them for trading purposes simply because we are convinced that the institution which stand behind them – Central Banks, free(ish) markets and law enforcement, will do what they are meant to do. We trust that the Central Banks will not print too many of those pieces of paper, that the free(ish) markets will set a reasonable price to everything and that the police will manage to weed out (most of) those who try to circulate fake money.
Not even a return to ‘real’ money – a.k.a. gold,  wouldn’t insulate us from crooks. Gold coins can be, and had been, tampered with in so many ways. Human greed is a very powerful motivator but not necessarily a good mentor.

Which brings us to the reason for why fake money came to be.
Simply because some ‘industrious’ people ‘make’ them and some other, equally greedy, people knowingly distribute them.

In conclusion, we wouldn’t have to deal with fake money if money wasn’t essential for an efficient free market and we would have a lot less of it if greed were not such a widespread attitude. And no, a cash-less economy would not solve the problem. A printing press is no longer essential for faking money. Hacking skills have become  a good enough substitute.

Let’s translate this rationale to (fake) news.

We need to know what’s going on around us so we’ve developed an equivalent to the financial system. The mass media.
Which has a more or less equivalent set of ‘guardians’.
The ‘printers’ are responsible for the equivalence between their ‘product’ and the reality it represents while the market (readers, that is) is responsible for ‘setting the price’.

Of course, there are also differences.
‘Law enforcement’ has indeed a role to play in the news industry but its scope is a lot narrower than in the first case. And rightfully so. The ‘information’ market needs to be a lot more ‘flexible’ than the one dealing in ‘economic goods’. There’s a lot to discuss on this subject, I’ll leave it here.
There’s also no Central Bank to ‘tug at the sleeves’ of those who ‘jump the shark’.

As a consequence of these two differences, the ‘counterfeiters’ have an easier life and the consumers/victims a far greater responsibility for what’s going on. Simply because the consumers/potential victims cannot rely on any third party to do their job. To sniff out the ‘bad thing’.

But what if ‘it’s the thief who plays the victim’?
That very much depends on who the ‘thief’ is!

Let’s go back in time for a short while.
First to the American Revolutionary War. During which the British attempted to crash the American economy by injecting in it enough counterfeit money to cause hyperinflation. “No economy, no more war.” The British did manage to produce and distribute a huge amount of fake money yet the outcome was not the intended one. “Even when at one point the amount of counterfeit currency in circulation may have exceed the amount of legitimate currency, the economy hung on by its eye teeth and never fully collapsed.”
One and a half centuries later, the British had found themselves at the receiving end of the same game. “…during World War II the Nazis almost destroyed the credibility of the British pound sterling by producing near-perfect forgeries, The Telegraph reports. By the end of the war the forgeries were so rife that Bank of England notes would not be accepted by any neutral country on the Continent “except at a very large discount…”.
Hitler was even less successful than the British had been but the inflicted injuries were huge nonetheless.
Now, would Hitler have attempted this on his own, without the British establishing a precedent?
We’ll never know… Sufficient to say that the US has also used fake money, obviously fake this time. For propaganda reasons and not as an attempt to ‘crash the economies’ of the countries they were fighting.

To close the circle, we must ask ourselves how successful would Putin’s trolls have been if Trump wouldn’t have beaten so hard the ‘birther’ drum…

Seriously now, propaganda is a very efficient weapon. Maybe more efficient than guns.
But, and in total contrast with a gun, propaganda is useless against really determined people.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me” is true. But only as long as those being called names are in the right state of mind. As soon as they start feeling hurt, all hell comes loose.

If you think of it, Trump’s birther campaign, fake as it was – he had admitted that much, eventually, was a very successful ‘fake news campaign’. It had established Donald Trump as  shrewd  media manipulator.
Unfortunately, it had an even worse outcome. It had very much helped those who wanted the American public split into warring parties.

And who are now pushing these parties further and further apart.

PS. While researching for this post, I found out that “fake news” has been declared ‘word of the year’ for 2017. A fitting development… last year’s ‘champion’ was “post truth”…
What next? Doublethink?