Finally, Hearst, Condé, Time Inc., Offer Irrefutable Proof That Print Magazines Will Never Die!
Readers, what you just experienced is intentional clickbait combined with Fake News. I thought it might be time to have a conversation about the access to free-range untruths. Sad to say false advertising and fake news is nothing new. It is indeed as old as the hills, and the only perceivable change is the absolute clarity of delivering any text to the exact chosen person and the instantaneous speed of doing so on a global basis.
Fake news I’m sure goes back as far as the human species telling trumped up stores by the campfire. As an amateur historian, I know dozens of historic examples of the distribution of known falsehoods. No doubt the Romans and the Greeks used it. But let’s stay domestic in this conversation.
In the good old American press we need look no further than the negative campaigning of our founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, when for the first time in American history, we find a Vice President running against his own President. Well, as soon as that happened, things went quickly downhill. Jefferson hired perhaps the first professional media political assassin, a man named James Callenda, who accused President Adams in the press of the day of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” The response by Adams’ media cohorts was to call Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
So, fake news and the abuse of the ability of communicate counterfeit information to the masses is, in fact, as old our country. The difference between the past exploitation of fake news and the current situation is that fake news is now democratized. Anyone can do it – sometimes knowingly and many times with innocent zeal.
Have you ever passed along a funny, photoshopped image? Have you reposted anything from the venerable satire publisher The Onion? I’m sure you have at least once. If so, you are in a large or small way a contributor to the fake news phenomenon. I’m not saying we shouldn’t send out funny things, but it is, in fact, part of the problem. I think we’d all be surprised how many people missed the sarcasm part of some of these posts and accept them as “Real News.” As in the story of our founding fathers, how can we distinguish truth from deliberate untruth? I can’t imagine an algorithm that can do that. And if distinguishing fake from real can’t be automated, then what? Does that mean we rely on an educated and discerning readership? Fat chance there.
The wonderful power of the internet age has delivered to us all the ability to democratize knowledge and deliver knowledge anywhere on the planet. Yet that power has also enabled segmentation of that delivery to specific and like-minded readers. This is the ability to sort the population into disparate groups linking mankind’s oldest fraternity, the tribe. I think at one point a case can be made that tribalism might have been necessary for our early survival. Now it is a device that has the power to do more harm than good. And tribalism can/and is now being used as a tool for nefarious purposes both commercial and political.
Which brings me back to publishing and journalism. Even the so-called legitimate press has its biases. Is the delivery of a biased story fake news or just something near to it? How do we run our retail, for-profit information businesses against the distribution/competition of fake news? Can fake news be delegitimized to any great extent? If not, then what? If it can, who has the authority to actually do so? Who correctly distinguishes fact from fiction, satire from news, and disingenuous plotting from acceptable political strategy?
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Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.