This communication is not fake. But how would you know. My claiming it’s real means nothing. In fact, even the president claiming that what he says, or tweets, is real, means nothing. However, a large percentage of people in the United States believe the president’s declarations. Why not? In normal times, that would be reasonable. But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal president who holds press conferences to reach out to citizens. Instead, he tweets his thoughts to his followers and avoids any insightful questioning. We are in a post-fact world. Any comments or news that gets play on social media and is seen by millions can be factual or not.
I remember when I would get my news from the New York Times, CBS or NBC News, and automatically believe what I was reading or heard. Why should it be questioned? But now, there are so many sources dispensing “news” and trying to influence the way people think, that what one accepts as true depends to a large degree on one’s political perspective. Partisanship colors the truth and what we tend to believe.
And many people on the right routinely demonize the mainstream media, accusing them of slanting the news, when in reality they are America’s last, best hope for transmitting the truth. The nation needs the mainstream media to separate fact from fiction, news from opinion, with freedom of the press one of the pillars of democracy. Getting the real news out to citizens is a vital role that the media has to play in any democracy, and America’s democracy is now in dire straits.
We have a president who lies or exaggerates constantly, saying things like ‘he won the popular vote and that millions of illegals voted,’ which he has to know are not true. His apparently spontaneous comments are meant to boost his ego and make him look good, which means that he’s very insecure. He has also denied Russian hacking in the election which our intelligence agencies have verified as having happened. America is in real trouble if he’s not going to accept what our intelligence agencies tell him and instead goes with his gut and narcissistic instincts.
Yet, a majority of his followers believe what Trump says, accepting that he won the popular vote and that the Russians government is not responsible for the hacking that has occurred. Some of that may be because of the news sites where his followers get their information and their unwillingness to trust the mainstream media. There are also a host of Internet trolls who are pumping out fake news in support of Trump and discrediting those who disagree with him. This is a significant danger to democratic values.
In addition to delivering the real news to those who are willing to accept it, the mainstream media, particularly the newspapers, play an important investigative role in democracies, ferreting out corruption in government and business and exposing lies by public figures. If the president and his associates disparage the mainstream media and are unwilling to cooperate with them, it will be more difficult for the media to do their jobs properly. If he says that they are promoting false information and lying about him, fewer people may buy the newspapers and tune in to the news programs on television. And businesses may stop advertising in these venues to get on the good side of the president and his minions.
We are at a crucial time in our democracy, where fake news is being created and circulated on social media by trolls, foreign and domestic hackers, and fake news websites, with millions of Americans relying on these unvetted stories and conspiracy theories. Some of the tales are so bizarre that one has to wonder how any person with half a brain could believe them, such as ‘Hillary Clinton running a pedophilic sex ring out of a pizza shop in Washington.’ But the stories have legs, being repeated over and over again until some people believe that they must be true, particularly if these people had negative feelings about Clinton in the first place. Then a believer with a gun comes to act because of these lies. And we can expect further actions, some of them violent, by politically illiterate citizens believing various fake news stories in the future.
What is the antidote? Obviously, knowledge. But how do you get people to read or look at mainstream media to obtain their information and start to question the lies and conspiracy theories from social media and fake news sites that occupy a large portion of their half-brains? They don’t want to question their beliefs. Makes them too uncomfortable and out of sync with their peers.
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