How dangerous is fake news?

A member of the transitional team of US president elect Donald Trump has been fired for posting fake news on Twitter. There were more false news stories than serious reports on Facebook in the run-up to the US elections, according to Internet media company Buzzfeed. Commentators discuss the origins of the "post-truth" era.

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Le Point (FR) /

Left liberals to blame for post-truth world

The Oxford Dictionary has selected "post-truth" as the word of the year. But it is wrongly associated with Trump and populists, British journalism professor Andrew Calcutt writes in Le Point:

“'Post-truth' was not invented by those whom the media call uneducated, or by their new-found heroes. ... On the contrary. Responsibility for the shift of values that ultimately attacked objectivity lies with academics, with substantial support from the middle class. This milieu that professes support for liberalism and harbours a strong love for the left political camp wanted to liberate itself from the truth announced by the state. In its place, it erected a new form of narrow-mindedness - 'post-truth'. More than 30 years ago, academics began to discredit 'truth' as one of the 'grand narratives' which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. The irony is that some of their closest relatives have been the first casualties of its further realisation.”

BNS (LT) /

Excessive criticism of Russia is also propaganda

Russia's influence on the spread of fake news is often exaggerated, writes Lithuanian political scientist Kęstutis Girnius, who grew up in the US, for the news agency BNS:

“Many Eastern Europeans believe the conspiracy theories and see a communist or a Russian under every bed and behind every bush. Today a growing number of people subscribe to conspiracy theories, also in the West. They attribute the same mystical powers to Russian disinformation specialists that they formerly ascribed to the KGB and Soviet diplomacy. ... Russia uses propaganda just like the West does. But the influence and the efficiency of Russian propaganda is often overrated. Russia is viewed as more evil and dangerous than it really is, and accusations are quick in coming. However wrongful accusations are also a kind of propaganda. We demand standards from Russia that we do not comply with ourselves.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Censorship is the wrong approach

Certain steps must be taken to put a stop to fake news on social media, Le Soir explains:

“Each time a politician - or for that matter a media outlet or a party - bends or falsifies the truth, they participate in a process of mental destruction. This might serve their purposes momentarily, but ultimately it will transform social life into a dialogue of the deaf. ... The so-called 'social' networks increase the spread of true and false information to an infinite degree. Censorship would be the wrong reaction. Instead we must debunk these lies that dumb down our minds. ... The solution? Education. Dialogue. Respect. Otherwise new monsters will emerge from the sprawling moral desert and the fears that run riot there. These, too, we must combat, and that fight is far from over.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Culture and democracy under threat

Fake news endangers our democracy, columnist Tom-Jan Meeus complains in NRC Handelsblad:

“For decades we've been hearing the same old refrain: immigration is threatening our culture. Islam is threatening our culture. Multiculturalism is threatening our culture. European cooperation is threatening our culture. What we learn from all that is that the declining significance of facts apparently is not a threat to our culture. For my part, however, I'd say that a culture that is permanently dogged by conflict and polarisation can also pose a problem. ... Any culture, no matter how sovereign, will deteriorate if it no longer respects facts. If we fail to fight fake news and give facts the respect they deserve, our culture and democracy will perish.”

Deutsche Welle (BG) /

No effective means against fake news

Not much can be done to stop the spread of fake news on the Internet, the Bulgarian service of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle fears:

“There is talk of a kind of filter that can tell us immediately what is true and what isn't. But while some people are building defence systems, others are working at breaking them down. ... Another possibility would be a sort of professional protection mechanism whereby journalists who disseminate fake news would lose their accreditation. That, too, is utopian, because can you tell nowadays who's a journalist and who's a normal citizen? How about if lawmakers set up EU- and sector-oriented fact-checking agencies where readers can get information about how much truth news articles contain? Unfortunately, real facts are boring. Absurd reports like 'Michelle Obama is a man', by contrast, are highly entertaining. The truth will always be out there somewhere, but we're too lazy to go out and look for it.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Toxic waste on the web

El Periódico de Catalunya is appalled by the amount of fake news that was spread during the US election campaign:

“After the amount of rubbish tipped on to the web during the US campaign it transpires that Google and Facebook want to banish the lies from their pages. Needless to say, that won't be easy. … Mark Zuckerberg has already warned: 'Identifying the truth is complicated.' And it's not just that. We are living in the post-factual era in which first they intoxicate us and then, if we're lucky, someone goes to the trouble of separating the wheat from the chaff. And then perhaps the more nuanced and reflected story reaches part of the masses who swallowed the lies. Those spreading the poison aren't doing it to earn a little money on the side, they're looking for far bigger booty. Here in Europe the press is in crisis and we see orchestrated smear campaigns aimed at bringing people down, but what went on with the web and the US election makes our misdeeds look like kid's stuff.”

Libération (FR) /

Facebook being used as a scapegoat

The new media and Facebook in particular are being wrongly blamed for Trump's election victory, Libération argues:

“Interestingly, young and urban populations were less prone to vote for Trump. And these groups in particular are most open to the new types of journalism that stem from the social network ecosystem and are less oriented toward institutional politics, like Buzzfeed, which is much criticised in France. The real reasons for the victory of the liar-in-chief are the despair, xenophobia and the dismal future, the politicians' inability to offer credible alternatives, and the traditional press's difficulties in getting through to disoriented readers. Those who look elsewhere for an answer to Trump's success know: it's easier to find a scapegoat than to come up with an answer to real problems.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Fake news is good for business

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that news feeds published on the platform will fact-checked. The Guardian is sceptical:

“Zuckerberg’s problem is that he doesn’t want to engage in that kind of fact-checking, because that would be a tacit acknowledgement that Facebook is a publisher rather than just a technology company and therefore has some editorial responsibilities. And what he omits to mention is that Facebook has a conflict of interest in these matters. It makes its vast living, remember, from monitoring and making money from the data trails of its users. The more something is 'shared' on the internet, the more lucrative it is for Facebook. ... In other words, if you run a social networking site, fake news is good for business, even if it’s bad for democracy.”