Sharing Culture: Viral Information, Rumours, Hoaxes

‘Misinformation’ and ‘Disinformation’: now ubiquitous terms that have proliferated since the election of Donald Trump as US president in 2016. They are frightening and doom-mongering, questioning the veracity of information that we have all come to rely on day-to-day. They question the very fabric of information and, consequently, put the ‘democracy that relies on it’ (Gibbon, 2018, p. 37)in jeopardy. There is something of a conflation between these terms, though. They do notmean the same thing. Indeed, ‘it is the intentionality which separates them’ (Henry, 2019, p. 4).

It is the question of ‘fake news’ and ‘wrong news’ (Henry, 2019, p. 4)and, indeed, it is ‘disinformation’ which is leading to democracy ‘being rocked by such material’ (Henry, 2019, p. 9)in this post-truth era. Many people attribute this rise in news which is ‘deliberately false, for profit or political gain’ (Henry, 2019, p. 4)to one man: Donald Trump. Fake news and misinformation ‘plagued the 2016 election on an unprecedented scale’ (Solon, 2016), from 

‘openly branding his enemies’ (Lavelle, 2018)to crassly ‘questioning Obama’s birth certificate’ (Tatum & Acosta, 2017). People are now beginning to see fake news as merely a ‘politicized buzzword’ (Nielsen & Graves, 2017, p. 1), harnessed and perpetuated by the political classes. However, one should remember that ‘just because someone in power says something does not mean the general citizenry should believe it’ (Henry, 2019, p. 10)– in the post truth era, it is possible that it was never even said in the first place.

In addition to the post-truth narrative of global politics. Social media has also been complicit on the rise of fake news and disinformation. According to former American President, Barrack Obama, ‘the crazy conspiracy theorizing on Facebook has created a dust cloud of nonsense’ (Solon, 2016). Social media has been subverted from a world of ‘connective, informative fun’ (Henry, 2019, p. 28), to one where ‘mischief makers have free rein to publish what they want in order to distort, disrupt and bully’ (Henry, 2019, p. 26). Facebook, in particular, has created a ‘digital echo chamber’ whereby ‘misinformation that aligns with our beliefs spreads like wildfire thanks to confirmation bias’ (Solon, 2016). Consumers limit themselves to ‘reading and hearing the same information continuously and only encounter news and views that correspond with their own’ (Henry, 2019, p. 28). This echo chamber feasts of the continuum of fake news. Here, users with a politicised agenda will share information which conforms to their beliefs, whether it is true or not. It is also a win-win situation for sites like Facebook as ‘the truth of a piece of content is less important than whether it is shared, liked and monetized – allowing clickbait, hyperbole and misinformation to proliferate’ (Solon, 2016).


Bibliography

Gibbon, G., 2018. Press Impartiality. In: C. Foster-Gilbert, ed. The Power of Journalists. London: Haus Publishing, pp. 29-38.

Henry, C., 2019.Not Buying It. 1st ed. London: Unbound.

Lavelle, D., 2018. From ‘Slimeball Comey’ to ‘Crooked Hillary’, why Trump loves to brand his enemies. [Online] 
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/shortcuts/2018/apr/17/presidents-nicknames-slimeball-comey-former-fbi-director
[Accessed 18 November 2020].

Nielsen, K. R. & Graves, L., 2017. “News you don’t believe”: Audience perspectives on fake news, London: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Solon, O., 2016.Facebook’s failure: did fake news and polarized politics get Trump elected?. [Online] 


Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/nov/10/facebook-fake-news-election-conspiracy-theories?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Media+briefing+2016&utm_term=199224&subid=7298829&CMP=ema_546
[Accessed 18 November 2020].

Tatum, S. & Acosta, J., 2017. Report: Trump continues to question Obama’s birth certificate. [Online]
Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/28/politics/donald-trump-barack-obama-birth-certificate-nyt/index.html
[Accessed 18 November 2020].

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