What Is Fake News?
There have been a lot of claims recently about “fake news.” In order to understand what “fake news” might be, one would have to compare the allegedly “fake” news to “non-fake” news.
If you had what you thought was a Picasso, for example, but then somebody claimed it was fake, you would need to prove it one way or the other. Likely have it analyzed by Picasso experts, maybe compare the painting styles, have it examined microscopically, or however else art experts can differentiate between fakes and originals.
Whatever the method, it would be scientific. They would have several pieces of data to point to in order to support that it was indeed a “fake” painting.
Is News Scientific?
Now, about fake news. First of all, what is ‘non-fake’ or “real” news? Something that happened? Perhaps. Something that is relevant? If that’s the case, the question then becomes relevant to whom? The same goes with important, or “newsworthy.”
What are entities that produce the news? They are businesses before anything else. Meaning they need to make a profit in order to survive. If they don’t exist on profits, then they have some other source of funding.
If they have a source of funding, then their objectivity is in question. But what about for-profit news agencies? Would their objectivity not be in question? Perhaps, but likely not. News source might target a certain type of customer base like any other business.
Would you expect a restaurant to produce “objective food?” Or a clothing retailer to provide “objective clothing?” Likely not.
Can News Ever Be Objective?
News agencies that catered to a largely farming customer base would likely produce news that was relevant to farming. News agencies that catered to gamers would likely contain news more interesting to gamers than anything else.
So, what, exactly then, is news? Something that happened recently. Or something new idea or piece of information about something that happened in the past. Or somebody who has a new idea or opinion about something that happened in the past.
Let’s say there is a flock of penguins that invade New York City. Hundreds of them suddenly show up one day. Nobody knows why. The first “news” stories are about the penguins themselves. Then later “news” stories are about various scientists and their theories of why a bunch of penguins decided to go to New York.
Then a week later, they find a very powerful and very wealthy businessman who has an opinion. He thinks the penguins are part of a conspiracy. That they are the initial phase of what will be along attack of the United States by animal lovers.
The headline reads, “U.S. Under Attack By Animal Lovers!” Then the article goes on to explain the wealthy man and why he has such a nutty opinion. Is this news? It’s something new that happened. It’s interesting enough to hopefully get plenty of ad clicks or sell a lot of papers.
Is it “real news?” Is it “fake news?”
Perhaps. If you think that penguins are not worthy of news, and you think people should be focusing on other things, perhaps you think it is “fake news.”
On the other hand, perhaps you think penguins are the secret to eternal life. And you want to know everything about penguins whenever it happens. So you think this is very real “news.”
The “truth” about news is there is really only two kinds. Stuff that happened, and stuff that didn’t happen. If some homeless guy thinks that all penguins are visitors from the future, here to tell us about an eminent volcano eruption under New York, would his opinion be “news?”
It depends. If it indeed happened, meaning if there really was a homeless guy who thought that, then sure, the idea may be valuable to somebody.
The Value of News Events
But would that be worthy of looking for and finding a homeless guy with that opinion? Maybe, maybe not. If it cost the news agency a thousand dollars to hunt the guy down and interview him, and then it generated two thousand dollars in ad clicks, then yes, it was worth it to the news agency. On the other hand, if it only generated a couple hundred dollars in clicks, then it was a mistake to expend the effort to get the story.
Perhaps when people are making claims of “fake” news, what they really mean is “not important” news. But what is important to one person is not important to another person.
And who is responsible for deciding what is important, and what isn’t important? The person or people who are footing the bill to keep the news agency afloat financially.
We Know What’s Important
What is likely the biggest issue is that many people drawn to the business of “news” because they are in a position to “decide” what is important, and what isn’t important. It feels good to have the ability to tell millions of people what’s important and what isn’t, especially during elections. Having the power to sway the thinking of millions of people is certainly a good position to be in.
Perhaps then, “fake” news, is more appropriately called “not very important” news. Because if the people labeling “fake” news thought it was a flat out lie, they would be calling it “false” news.
They are saying it is true information, just not worth of being reported. Hence the “fake” title.
So what happens if you have that power, and you fail to move millions of people in the direction you wanted them to go? Or you didn’t move enough people in the direction you wanted to go?
Well, what happens when you fail at anything? There are two likely outcomes. One is to admit that you messed up, figure out why, and see what you can do better next time.
The other outcome is to blame somebody else. It’s not my fault. It’s somebody else’s fault. And this is likely the heart of the recent complaints about “fake news.”
Instead of accepting the fact that many news agencies couldn’t get Hillary Clinton elected like they wanted to, they can point to “fake news” as the bad guy. Not their inability to understand their target market. Not their inability to find out what people really wanted.
The reason they couldn’t move people the way they wanted to was “not important” news. Which presupposes that all the people that didn’t pay attention to Hillary were just too dumb to understand what was important, and were too easily manipulated by “news” that just wasn’t important.
If they really thought the content of the fake news was absolutely false, there would be a shit ton of lawsuits. But there aren’t. There are no lawsuits.
This means they recognize the news was the truth. But it was just not important. Or at least not as important as the OTHER news was.
But they were wrong.
Which is precisely why mainstream news is not only losing ad revenue, but they are trusted less and less by the general public.
That they call what the general public IS interested in as not important illustrates their disdain for the general public.