Fake News and Language Wars must be Overcome

Since the 2016 election, there has been a  surge of interest in the prevalence of fake news. A recent example posted by Bill Moyers is Who’s Really to Blame for Fake News and is well worth the read.

Another recent article widely shared, but with which I have some issues, is the Daily Dot’s posting of Professor Melissa Zimdars’ list of  “fake, false, or regularly misleading websites”. The list is broken into four categories. It bothers me that this list leaves out Fox News and includes some popular liberal and progressive sites due to the “sensational” wording of their headlines or because they (honestly, imho) discuss spiritual and metaphysical issues, even though their factual reporting is accurate and they’re quite honest about what they’re doing.

There are now long-needed courses on how to recognize fake news: Teachers are now teaching their students how to recognize fake news.

Of course, as part of the conservative language war strategy, the Republicans and Trump himself have already turned the effort to identify fake news into a dishonest endeavor itself (as was done when Trump called CNN fake news for reporting on his ties to Moscow). Thus, it’s important to keep in mind the real meaning of fake news. Fake news is not just news that one doesn’t like, it is news that is inaccurate, misleading, and dishonest.

From my reading and observations, there appear to be two main motivations for publishing fake news: 1) Propaganda with political intent, and 2) Making fast money with clickbait.

As for the first motivation, many books, articles, and even college courses have discussed in detail how the media has changed over the last twenty years. Roger Ailes at Fox News was one of the key players in the transition of news to propaganda.

The political forces have surfaced in more than just the news, however, Frank Luntz, with the aide of Karl Rove and Roger Ailes has developed a science of persuasive language use (or, more accurately, misuse) to push the far right agenda. Examples with which we are all familiar include “Support the Troops” – meaning support a particular political view while not demonstrating concern for particular soldiers and their plights, “Far Left” – meaning anyone not on the far right, and “Some people are saying” – meaning here’s some bullshit we have completely made up.

The conservatives have engaged not just fake news, but also persuasive strategy. Karl Rove with assistance from Luntz and Ailes has developed powerful strategies. The best example of this is accusing the other side for something you’re about to do – – so that when the other side later rightfully accuses you of the misdeed or bad motivation, it sounds like they are just parroting your previous accusations of them.

Progressives need effective counter-strategies. We must recognize that Fox “News”, running 24 hours a day and broadcasting for over 20 years, has thoroughly accomplished its purpose. The techniques used are tried and proved (some of them going back to Nazi propaganda research). But, the good news is that those proselytized by Fox, whatever you want to call them, amount to no more than 32-37% of the voting population and this has been consistent for the two decades. There is no indication their numbers will increase. Standing alone, they cannot elect a president.

None of us will ever change these 32-37%; they are beyond deprogramming at this point. Our focus should be on the independents who do elect presidents. Liberal and progressive votes more than cancel out the proselytized Fox voters, but with not enough margin to swing an election. The independents are the key.

I don’t think any of us sway the independents by constantly being in flame wars with the inFoxicated. It may feel good to do so, but as many a meme has pointed it, it ultimately changes nothing. It just drives the independents away. If we want to create a powerful progressive political force, we have to abandon all fruitless attempts to deprogram the Fox folks and focus instead on the independents. That is what Bernie Sanders was smart enough to do. If he had won the primary (and that’s another subject), he would have won the general election. He has shown us the way. We need to continue with that course and stay true to it.

Let’s stop flaming with the Fox folks and concentrate instead on posting facts and positive information. With your own posts, don’t chose them just to aggravate the Fox folks. As for comments on your Facebook posts, use your delete button when necessary. Deletion of a comment is the ultimate form of disregard for the message and is the best way (and quickest way) to express your disagreement with a comment. You don’t have to unfriend or even unfollow the person, just delete the comments on your post with which you strongly disagree. If their disagreeable posts show in your timeline, just hide the post or scroll on by. On Twitter, blocking is necessary, but better to block than to argue with someone who will never listen.

Let’s stop trying to change the unchangeable and focus on changing the things that we can. It’s all serious business now. Arguably, even the survival of our species depends upon what happens in the Presidential election four years from now.”

While arguing on social media does little good — but ignoring the offenders does seem to affect them — the answer seems to be to ignore. I think the most important thing, though, now that things have gotten serious indeed, is to not in any way reinforce their reliance on fake news and unfair strategies. Educate all to the extent they will let you. Be careful not to rely on questionable sources yourself. And, never, regardless of your personal respect for a person, allow your personal feelings to lead to affirmation of their fake news or data in order not to hurt their feelings.

Additional thoughts on techniques and strategies to counter fake news and language war are most welcome. Please share you views with us in the comments on own our Facebook or Twitter.



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