Founding Father John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” But this is no longer Adams’ America, where facts were unalterable.
To stem the rising influence of fake news, some countries have made the creation and distribution of deliberately false information a crime.
We’re only days into the federal election campaign and already the first instances of “fake news” have surfaced online.
Although the term itself is not new, fake news presents a growing threat for societies across the world. Only a small amount of fake news is needed to disrupt a conversation, and at extremes it can have an impact on democratic processes, including elections.
In the RSF Index 2018 report, the NGO Reporters without Borders highlighted how media were facing a constant “anti-media rhetoric” from politicians that has spread out throughout the world. With such attacks, far-right political strategists such as Steve Bannon seek to discredit legitimate media and lift up social media – where “news” can more easily escape from editorial gate-keeping and accountability – to become the main source of information to the public.
We shouldn’t need a Super Bowl commercial costing around $10 million to remind us that information is supposed to matter in a democracy. Yet the Washington Post thought we did, so it told 111 million Americans watching the Super Bowl that “knowing empowers us, knowing helps us decide, knowing keeps us free.” It was another sign that our longstanding faith in the power of information is faltering, undermining democracy. And unless we want this faith to be replaced by authoritarianism, we need to reform our education and political systems to restore our faith in facts.
Transparency is needed from Facebook to ensure it is free from any political pressures. This will also empower its users to take action in fighting hoaxes and misinformation.
Democracy and social progress die without science and fact-based knowledge. Science and facts are the foundational basis for rational and logical disputation and the possibility of reaching some truths. Fake news, on the other hand, is a calculated assault on democratic freedoms.
For social media and search engines, the law is back in town. Prompted by privacy invasions, the spread of misinformation, a crisis in news funding and potential interference in elections, regulators in several countries now propose a range of interventions to curb the power of digital platforms.