From the preface to a novel (Spammed) I wrote earlier this year. Comments welcomed.
A discussion of the what is and what is not real about fake news. Not surprisingly, the folks at Merriam-Webster find the term unlikely to be added to their dictionary since it is a COMPOUND NOUN! As if compound nouns are somehow less worthy than non-compound ones. This is real, not fake news. There’s only a slight chance that they may allow it to join the ranks of dictionary additions if the word becomes more than just two nouns thrown together. M-W folks, you may not get it yet, but it’s already there, joined at the hip, and it is a word.
What exactly is the history of this compound noun that gets no street or dictionary cred? Long as we’ve been hearing and seeing news, it’s been potentially fake. Unnamed sources who spoke with me on condition of anonymity tell me it grew alongside the traditional means of passing information. Deception, which is a particularly human trait shared by only a few other animals, is something we love and hate.
Consider the use of the term news: a means by which something is imparted to another, something which the party of the second part may not have known. From town criers to Internet bloggers, news has been orally or remotely broadcast to the masses, most times without the benefit of complete fact-checking for accuracy and veracity.
The use of news to influence rather than illuminate something or someone is the norm. As long as there have been news purveyors, there have been choices made on what to say or write and what to leave out. It all started when the human species discovered two things: one was that most other humans had very short attention spans, and two, sensationalism sells like nothing before or since. Combine these two factors and you have the news, fake or not.
In the Darwinian course of things, people spreading the news were saddled with a mutant variety competing for the same edibles--editors, those people who emasculate the news to fit whatever worldview needs to be pushed.
Jack London, writing in his semi-autobiographical 1909 novel, Martin Eden, put it best:
“...The chief qualification of ninety-nine percent of all editors is failure. They have failed as writers…. The editors, the sub-editors, associate editors, most of them, and the manuscript readers for the magazines and book-publishers, most of them, nearly all of them, are men who wanted to write and failed.”
With the advent of the “editor,” the business of news took a new and frightening turn. Jack London was prescient in describing a world where the submissions were removed by machines from an envelope and then placed in another to be sent back with a rejection letter, Now, in the 21st Century, the human touch pervades all news, even the fake stuff.
Consider this: conventional wisdom is that all editors and writers have eliminated all their biases. If, by some tragic and unforeseen reason, they still have a slight bias, they are able, as professionals to put that aside, sticking with just the facts. They write facts, and only facts, for the news. Maybe in another universe, one parallel to ours.
I blame much of this on adjectives, those pretentious little collections of letters that litter the sentences on the news. For example, mentioning that something is “drastic, huge, unexpected,” changes the drift of the news from facts to what we should consider to be factual, and therefore without doubt. Writing news without adjectives leave us bereft of more than declarative sentences, boring in the extreme. Try writing a page of stuff with only objects, subjects and verbs. Most of us would be in the Dick and Jane genre if we did that.
Consider ubiquitous social networks. If there is someone on Earth who has not heard of them, I’d like to meet them. Using the anonymity of posting and false names, folks can and do write outrageous, unsubstantiated reports, many of which then pass for news, albeit fake news.
Ever heard of Tor Software? Created inside the government tent, this handy tool allows anyone to hide behind a name not associated with the network or the IP (Internet Protocol) address that they are sending things is be done with impunity, and without fear of being nailed by a sniffer tool, one that finds out who you are, based on where you sit at the computer.
Social networking relies on human interaction, mostly among like-minded true believers. For example, if you are absolutely convinced that a joy-riding UFO crammed with clueless aliens crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and that the government never wants you to find out, using social networks, you’ll gravitate to a site that revels in the this set of alleged facts. Forget all the other stuff that debunks the UFOs, that’s not what you’re interested in or even care about.
Fire hosing, the extreme flow of data hitting us all in the face, all the time, no matter where we are, is another gift from modern technology. Turning on your mobile device leads you to millions of reports, maybe hundreds of millions, about whatever you find interesting, revolting, wonderful, stupid, hateful or just plain repeatable. Filters can assist in getting to the good stuff, but none are as much fun as the occasional foray into hard-to-believe postings. And, outrage is dead. We put up with a lot of stuff that our parents would never have. Of course, they put up with us, right?
So, here we are, hapless victims of information overload, wandering aimlessly through thickets of dense information vegetation, some poisonous some benign, all bothersome and interesting at the same time. Fake news is here to stay. Fake news purveyors morph almost at will, taking their craft to new levels of sophistication, posting using vague, mostly unnamed sources, never validating what’s said and of course, then if caught in a mistake, never apologizing. Of course, no one reads retractions these days, takes too much time and removes the salaciousness from the original story that we love and read.
So, to hammer home the point that needs making: news we believe fits our true and honest beliefs is real. It might be made up, but we love that it conforms to our long-held and unshakable tenets. On the other hand, we deny that anything that does not fit with our views, calling it fake, it’s just not true. Hope that clears this all up; if not, it’s just fake news!