I do not understand why some members of mainstream media everywhere around the world are complaining about the proliferation of what they call “fake news”. It’s not even clear what their definition of fake news is. As far as I know, fake news has been around since forever. They used to be called tabloid reports and conspiracy theories. Whether it is tabloid news or conspiracy theories, the articles are likely exaggerated or fabricated. As a matter of fact, some owners of mainstream media themselves dedicate a section of their publication to publishing tabloid or conspiracy theories. Some just publish these under the guise of “gossip columns”. This was the case with News Limited owner Rupert Murdoch who used to own the tabloid newspaper News of the World.
Murdoch owns a number of publications and other media outlets around the world including Fox News Channel – a news channel with a reputation for spreading propaganda. The now defunct News of the World which was a leading newspaper in the United Kingdom was founded in 1843 and operated until it was forced to close down after being embroiled in a phone hacking scandal in 2011. Authorities uncovered their decades-long practice of hacking into the phones of A-list celebrities and prominent individuals in order to get private information about them and publish these as “news”.
Gossip columnists have been around since forever as well. They even become toasts of the town. Publishers consider gossip sections their income-generating sections. This is to offset the lack of readership on their more serious stuff about politics and the economy. Publishers even anticipate lawsuits from their victims and have a budget for these. The idea is that the income generated from the publication of fabricated stories is more than enough to cover risk of litigation. There are probably thousands of gossip magazines and tabloids out there, but hardly anyone regarded them as “harmful” to society. Tabloids even hire thepaparazzi – the journalism world’s scumbags – to get photos of celebrities and famous people in compromising and awkward situations to stir up sensationalized controversy, which they expect to sell. The paparazzi came under fire when the late Princess Diana of Wales died in a car crash in 1997 after being pursued by a horde of paparazzi. That did not change their behaviour though.
In other words, sensationalism is what sells newspapers and other publications. The Philippine Daily Inquirer uses sensationalism to attract readership. They are not above fabricating stories just to help their allies in government beat their opponents. There were a number times in the last few years when this was evident. They publish reports lacking in bases against the Philippine Liberal Party’s opposition, like former Vice President Jejomar Binay, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona and, now, current President Rodrigo Duterte.
The notion that people are spreading “fake news” nowadays is old news. With the advent of technology and social media, the average person can now publish his or her own opinion or stories. Likewise, anyone can promote their body of work using any of the platforms provided by social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is obviously bad news for members of mainstream media who have long dominated the news industry. They lament the rise of the “trolls” and people using fake accounts spreading “fake news” as if they are above using their positions in mainstream media to spread negative propaganda against people they don’t like.
Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan – a senator allied with the Liberal Party – wants to summon executives of social networking site Facebook to a Senate hearing he recently mounted to “investigate” their role in the “proliferation” of so-called “fake news”.
Last week, Pangilinan filed a Senate resolution seeking to conduct a probe on how Facebook can be penalized for supposedly “not being able to regulate fake news on its site and to determine the necessity of amending the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and other pertinent laws.”Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, said the propagation of fake news stories has become an “effective weapon of several political operatives to influence public opinion and national discourse.”
This must be the dumbest move so far by the Liberal Party in their efforts to shut down their critics. To drag an international organisation into the ugly world of Philippine politics is so embarrassing. The senator doesn’t seem to realise that Facebook is just another platform to promote ideas. Facebook executives cannot be held responsible for what people put out there or believe. As long as it is not promoting harm against other people, information should be allowed to flow. It is up to each individual to discern fact from fiction, which has always been the case since time immemorial. As the old saying goes “do not believe everything you read”.
The problem with the Liberal Party and their supporters is they cannot accept that they were defeated in the last election. They keep insisting that Duterte won because he has an army of trolls who spread lies about his opponents especially those from the Liberal Party. Never mind that both camps engaged in the use of propaganda. This seems to be the case as well in the United States where Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s supporters are saying the lies and negative propaganda that was allegedly spread by President Donald Trump’s camp was the reason Clinton lost the election.
The problem with the world today is not an outcome of the proliferation of “fake news”. The problem with the world today is some people cannot accept that they have lost the debate or failed to leverage new technologies in clever new ways. Now they find themselves surrounded by and unable to keep up with newer and more agile players in the field. In a marketplace full of ideas, you need to have the loudest, but not necessarily the most rational voice out there to stay relevant. Some people are neither loud nor rational. And that’s the simple reason why they don’t command attention or respect from the people.