It’s Not “Fake News” Just Because You Disagree With It

I use the term “fake news” to refer to doctored social media posts that were never written by the purported authors, or real photos taken out of context and given new captions. Sharing such posts because they flatter your pre-conceived notions of the targets contributes to the devaluing of the truth.

Politicians have put spins on news since there have been politicians. Satire has a long literary history.

Tossing the label “fake news” at a legitimate news trend (one that falls under a general hashtag such as #blacklivesmatter or #pizzagate) is an attempt to discredit the mainstream news. Sharing fake memes in which public figures purportedly say ridiculous things makes the targets look bad, but the truth suffers more. Trump never told People magazine that Republicans are dumb, Sarah Palin never said “I can see Russia from my house,” and when Obama said “gotta have ribs and pussy too” in 1995 he was reading a line spoken by a character in his book. Sharing miscaptioned photos that criticize public figures or organizations for things they never actually said or did generates the kind of emotional response that can lead to a mob mentality.

I’m still horrified for the teacher who was accused of maliciously denying an autistic child the chance to say his line in the school play (when another side of the story reports that the child never attended any rehearsals, showed up the day of the performance, was given other lines that he did deliver during the play, and that the “gobble gobble” line he wanted to say was not a scripted part of the performance). Mrs. Linsey is as much a victim of mob justice as the owner of Comet Ping Pong (the restaurant targeted by the bizarre conspiracy theory that it fronts a child abuse ring helmed by Hilary Clinton).

Slate notes that the right-wing fringe is attempting to dilute the term “fake news” by applying it to legitimate news coverage that questions conspiracy theories; however, we all participate in the denigration of the truth if we share memes that we agree with rather than news from legitimate sources.

To state what should be obvious, these [legitimate news stories that upset people who disagree with them] are not stories fabricated by hoaxsters or Macedonian teenagers looking to make a buck. They are opinions and analyses with which the tweeters happen to strongly disagree. But throwing the term fake news back at the mainstream media allows the right-wing fringe not only to insult their specific targets, such as CNN, but to devalue the term itself and along with it the idea that there is any clear distinction between truth and fiction. It’s no surprise that those on the right who have embraced the meme most enthusiastically include conspiracy-mongers such as Infowars, which built its reputation by suggesting that the U.S. government helped orchestrate the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks. We’re now faced with a grim irony in which mainstream news outlets reporting on “Pizzagate” as a fake news story are themselves being labeled fake news outlets by the conspiracy theorists that propagated it. –Slate, Stop calling everything fake news.