Fake news began a long time ago
Posted 3.9.21

SHAWVILLE, QC | I suppose, thanks to a lifetime in journalism, that my fascination is still alive with the "false news" phenomena of the last few years. "Decades" is more realistic: false news has been with us for a lot longer than the latest of its guises, Trump & today's populism.

I recall, decades ago, public alarm over the manipulation of consumers by "Madison Avenue", by modern advertising. The point of advertising is to go beyond the facts, to encourage decisions and actions which we might not normally take.

Is there anyone reading this who has not complained about exaggerated advertising? That's fake news ... and it easily morphed from commercial advertising to attitudes and opinion-moulding around elections and other socially important conflicts.

Decades past, remember the anglophone Quebec parents confronted the nationalistic re-writing of Quebec and Canadian history? They were objecting to fake news.

Or ask Indigenous persons if the history they were taught reflects the realities of their cultures -- starting with the conquest of the New World.

Frankly, our national myths (and certainly not just our own!) are largely, well, "fake news". National myths blend into national stereotypes -- we begin seeing other nations, cultures or beliefs as threats, heavily based on "fake news" of the day, on distortions of history, current events, and public affairs.

For this manipulation of the facts to have been effective required and continues to require that our nation's media collude, unconsciously or not, in creating and spreading versions of "fake news".

Really, China is a threat to us? Poverty-filled Bolivia? Basket-case Venezuela?

Or ... or ... there seems no end to national threats and this should make us wonder how real these threats actually are? It seems we are accustomed (thank you, media!) to continually face threats and enemies.

We must have an enemy! Or so it seems. "Fake news" in all these terms has been with us for an awfully long time -- it was called propaganda. Media has been its main transmission line, from the six o'clock news and the daily paper to Twitter.

So, in this sense, today's uproar over fake news and the ease with which it spreads and expands on social media, ought to prompt us to do more than tsk-tsk or complain of our kids' addiction to their phones. Here's an opportunity to sort through our national myths, not to mention each of our personal myths. Does our nation, our society, our economy -- our futures! -- really require these exaggerations to prosper?

Fake-news detection isn't rocket science. But the problem is real, and there've been dangerous movements grow up thanks to it.

A staggeringly large propaganda infrastructure has been created to promote slanted myths and memes. Look at any list of today's think-tanks, research & public policy institutes, foundations and centres -- the USA may dominate here, but Canada has its own effective "persuasion" infrastructure: Fraser & CD Howe Institutes, Taxpayers Federation, Heartbeat International, the Frontier Centre, Manning Centre, Montreal Economic Institute ("privatize Hydro-Quebec!"), plus hundreds more, not to mention those specific to environmental, wildlife and climate issues.

Here's one example of this fake news infrastructure at work: in climate change discussions, the big carbon emitters (coal, oil, transportation) first denied the climate was changing ... then later denied that human actions are causing it. Now those Big Emitters have their own eco-infrastructure "studying" climate change.

Curiously, their studies are not of the major emissions industries, but about you and I and recycling our kitchen wastes! Their message is that each of us is responsible for stemming the coming climate disaster. Another form of fake news! On the surface, it's plainly true, but it will be the tar sands, pipelines, coal plants -- the usual suspects -- who will or will not drive climate catastrophes.

The Trump phenomena forced us to look at the info-climate that spawned today's distrust. That climate has always been here, changing messaging as needed. It is the climate of myths and historical revision in which we and our society were nurtured.

Haven't we finally had enough of fake news that we'll look at the whole socio-political picture causing it?


Copyright © 2020 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles 3.9.21