Com.press

e-wydania

Tytus Ferenc

Uniwersytet Jagelloński

Zakład Komunikowania Międzynarodowego i Mediów UJ

Ukończył studia na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim na kierunku Nauki Polityczne ze specjalnością dziennikarską. Dyplom obronił w 1992 roku. W latach 1992–1998 pracował w Radiu RMF FM, Radiu Kraków, Wydawnictwie Inside Cracow oraz w Międzynarodowej Szkole Dziennikarstwa UJ. Od października 1998 do chwili obecnej prowadzi zajęcia w Instytucie Dziennikarstwa, Mediów i Komunikacji Społecznej na Wydziale Zarządzania i Komunikacji Społecznej UJ.
Jego zainteresowania badawcze koncentrują się wokół problematyki związanej z wykorzystaniem języka obcego w warsztacie zawodowego doskonalenia dziennikarzy. Obecnie prowadzi badania związane z marketingiem politycznym i brandingiem politycznym w kampanii prezydenckiej w Stanach Zjednoczonych w 2016 roku. Zajmuje się także tłumaczeniem tekstów naukowych i dziennikarskich z języka polskiego na angielski.

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Fake news in the United Kingdom and the United States.

A historical-conceptual sketch

Abstrakt

Od kilku lat w mediach rośnie liczba fake newsów. Nierzadko są one tworzone specjalnie, aby osiągnąć pewne cele, ale niestety coraz częściej fake newsem nazywane jest wszystko to, co jest sprzeczne z interesami partii (lub opcji politycznej), która jest w danym momencie u władzy. Pojęcie to jest wówczas używane jako wymówka, aby ograniczyć wolność słowa.

Abstract

There is more and more fake news which at times is employed to obtain certain specific goals, nevertheless, more and more often, fake news is anything which is contrary to the interests of the ruling political party (or political establishment) which is in power, and is used as an excuse to limit freedom of speech.

Keywords

Introduction

The term fake news has been very much in vogue since the last presidential elections in the United States in 2016. Although one could say that intuitively, virtually every literate person comprehends just what this expression signifies, it has proven somewhat difficult to come up with a succinct, unequivocal definition of what qualifies as fake news. According to the Pratt Library, „fake news” is „information that cannot be verified, without sources, and possibly untrue” (Enoch Pratt Library, n.d., p. 2). Meanwhile, the „Globe and Mail”, the largest English-language newspaper in Canada, defines the term in an exceptionally clear-cut manner as being: „Media that’s custom made to fool you” (Annett, 2017, p. 1). There are scholars who consider a synonym as being the best definition of any word or phrase. Some candidates for a synonym of fake news could be „propaganda”, „disinformation”, „misinformation”, „not-news”, „information fabrication”, „information disorder” or simply a „hoax”. None of the aforementioned words seem to cover the full extent of just what constitutes fake news. To better comprehend exactly what this phenomenon is, would require an examination of the origins of fake news, its history through the centuries, some of its facets and variations, and finally, to delve into some of the current events in both the United States and Great Britain, to determine the outcome of contemporary and future events.

Fake news – the concept and its history

One of the misconceptions, initially, regarding the use of the term „fake news”, at least over the last two years, was that due to the advance of technology, fake news would be easier to detect and therefore, combat. It would appear however, that just the opposite is the case. Indeed, the appearance of modern technology has empowered, extended the range, and augmented the numbers of those who employ fake news. Natalie Nougayrede (2018), a columnist for the „Guardian”, opined that: „The use of propaganda is ancient, but never before has there been the technology to so effectively disseminate it”. It would therefore behoove us to comprehend the historical background when examining current events regarding fake news.

Although falsehoods are well nigh as old as mankind itself, literally going back to Adam and Eve, there is no lack of examples where people bended, flexed, or stretched the truth, i.e. lied – for temporal, political or social advancement. Interpersonal communication has been rife with fake advertising and falsehoods, however, be that as it may, it would be useful for our purposes to pin down just exactly when the first recorded history of fake news could be found. More than one historian is of the opinion that the first example of this phenomenon, that may be verified, dates back to the final war of the Roman Republic (32 B.C. – 30 B.C.). It seems that the adopted son of Julius Caesar, Octavian, was pitted against Marc Anthony, who aligned with Cleopatra. Octavian waged an information war, or if one prefers a public relations campaign, against Marc Anthony. His offensive was constituted of brief, pithy slogans written on Roman coins, which portrayed Marc Anthony as being completely controlled by Cleopatra, that is by Egypt, and therefore in a state of sedition against Rome. In addition, Marc Anthony was portrayed as a womanizer and as someone who abused alcohol. The results were outright spectacular. This malicious and spiteful attack ended with a will, supposedly being read in the Senate House in Rome, Marc Anthony being declared a traitor, and war being declared against Egypt. Afterwards Octavian destroyed the Roman Republic and declared himself emperor (Posetti, Matthews, 2018, p. 1).

Fake news can be employed both during someone’s life and even after their death. For instance, there was a Byzantine historian by the name of Procopius, who lived in the VI century A.D., who produced reports about some rather doubtful facts, which were known as the Anecdota. The facts therein, were used to besmirch the reputation of Emperor Justinian, despite the fact that he praised the emperor in what he wrote officially (Burkhardt, 2017, p. 5). Sometimes fake news was even used in attempts to swing papal elections. There was one Pietro Aretino in Rome, who attempted to influence the papal election in 1522. He did this, by writing nasty poetry regarding all of the candidates (of course with the exception of those who were backed by the Medici family, the same family which paid Aretino). Aretino would then take this poetry, and affix it to a statue known as the Pasquino near the Piazza Navona in Rome. What became known as the pasquinade became a universal genre of disseminating fake news, generally concerning the clergy, nobility, and other highly placed individuals (Burkhardt, 2017, p. 6).

Fake news in the early modern era

The fact that Gutenberg was able to invent the printing press at the end of the XV century only augmented the distribution of fake news. A somewhat more popular genre of fake news made its appearance in the XVII century, the „canard” which continually appeared in the streets of Paris over the following two centuries. These canards were nothing more than printed broadsides, sometimes appearing with an engraving, thereby lending them some veracity. One of the most widely circulated ones spoke of some kind of monster that was supposedly captured in Chile, and was then transported to Spain, since Chile was still a Spanish colony at the time. According to this „canard” this monster had the head of a Fury, bat-like wings, an enormous body that was completely covered in scales, and finally, a tail that was reminiscent of a dragon. During the French Revolution, the face of the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, was put on the copper plates used for the engravings, and what resulted exactly matches the definition of what is fake news at the beginning of this paper, that is, „media that’s custom made to fool you”, in this case fake news in the form of bogus political propaganda. This must have contributed to the extreme loathing the sans culottes and others had for the Queen, who as we know, was later beheaded.

Before the French Revolution, many types of criticisms of the French elites could not be openly published, so this news would be disseminated via small underground newspapers or simply by word of mouth. News was garnered from wherever people got together and gossiped, such as in the Tuileries Garden and the „Tree of Cracow” in the Palais Royal garden. Sometimes this „news” consisted of small pieces of paper, which people exchanged or simply were placed on park benches so that someone else could find them.

During this period, that is the XVII and XVIII centuries, the French police would do their best to capture the nouvellistes (news writers), and when arrested, would search their pockets for any notes or pieces of paper which could have information written on it. These journalists would cobble together various short bits of news, in general no longer than a single paragraph, into manuscript gazettes called „nouvelles a la main”, one of the most widely sold versions of this was „Le Gazetier cuirasse” which was more than likely printed in England (Darnton, 2017).

This was how the situation looked like in France, what was it like on the other side of the English Channel? In the XVII century, when coffeehouses started to become popular, people would gather and exchange opinions (gossip) in this era when newspapers began to make their appearance. The king at that time however, Charles II, became so upset that people would criticize him, his ideas, and the royal family, that he tried to shut down these coffeehouses to curb the dissemination of newspapers in general. He never carried through on his threats however, as some nobles were able to convince him that in the long run, it wouldn’t be in his best interests to do so (Samej, 2018).

Even Jonathan Swift made derogatory comments regarding fake news, at least about political fake news, in his essay entitled: „Falsehood flies and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late, the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect” (Swift, 1710). Indeed, it seems that Swift’s description of fake news is utterly atemporal, as it applies as much to the XXI century as to the XVIII century.

Swift made the comments mentioned above at the beginning of the XVIII, but by the end of the 1700s the situation was somewhat different. London abounded in the distribution of half-true, half-false, suspicious and even damaging news in this era, when newspapers began to reach a broad public. There were some ten dailies, eight tri-weeklies, and nine weekly newspapers circulating in London, and their articles usually consisted of no more than one paragraph. Journalists who were called „paragraph men” gleaned rumors and sensational news, would jot down a few sentences, which they would then hand them over to their printer (who was also their publisher) and it would appear in the next issue of their respective papers. Some of these journalists would do this for money, while others simply desired the satisfaction of being able to manipulate public opinion, in favor of, or against, famous people or even against something along the lines of a book or a theatrical play.

The „Morning Post” was founded by the Reverend Henry Bate in 1772. It was a newspaper that printed paragraph after paragraph – and each of these paragraphs had a completely different piece of news – and many of these bits of news were completely false. Bate became known as the „Reverend Bruiser” and later went on to found a another newspaper called „The Morning Herald”, while his former paper, „The Morning Post”, went on to hire someone who was even meaner and more disagreeable than he was, another clergyman, the Reverend William Jackson, who was endowed with the nickname of „Dr. Viper” thanks to „the extreme and unexplained virulence of his invectives … in that species of writing known as paragraphs.” Indeed there are some historians of journalism who affirm that the „brawling” carried out by these two gentlemen, established a benchmark that makes the current crop of tabloids seem tame by comparison (Darnton, 2017, p. 2).

That was what the situation at the beginning of the newspaper era looked like in the United Kingdom. What was it like „on the other side of the pond”?

Fake news in the USA

Fake news of course had been known since the earliest days of printing. Throughout the XVI and XVII centuries, there were pamphlets which gave lurid descriptions of monsters of some type of extraordinary events. One of these, which was published in 1654, recounts how a monster with the legs of a goat, a human body, seven arms and seven heads, was found (Standage, 2017) while yet another report referred to a Dutch woman who had lived fourteen years without consuming any food or drink. The stories, obviously, were false, but the publishers of this nonsense provided the same rationale that the Internet conglomerates of today – that they were doing nothing more than disseminating information, and bore absolutely no responsibility for guaranteeing its veracity.

By the XIX century the situation had changed diametrically because of the advent of the daily newspaper. A newspaper would contain a number of different articles, and of course it had its own name. The editorial staff of any given newspaper therefore, had a reputation, a „track record” if you will, regarding its trustworthiness. If a newspaper couldn’t be believed and relied upon, it would most certainly lose readers. „The Sun”, established in New York City in 1833, is considered by many historians of journalism as being the first modern newspaper, as it drew its revenue primarily from advertisements, and not subscriptions, so it had to secure and maintain (better yet, increase) its public. Early in its career, it garnered a lot of publicity, and many new readers, from a bit of fake news which it published in 1835, which was later called the „moon hoax”.

The „moon hoax” consisted of a series of articles dealing with a certain John Herschel, who supposedly was a well known English astronomer, who had a large and powerful telescope which was located in the British Cape Colony of South Africa. Thanks to this enormous telescope, it was reported, Mr. Herschel was able to observe the Moon and what was happening there. According to him, there were creatures which were a cross between a man and a bat, and they would eat fruit and converse with each other. There were also animals similar to goats, and even a building which appeared to be a temple of some sorts, which apparently was constructed of sapphire (Standage, 2017).

Why did the editors of „The Sun” publish such an elaborate series of „fake news” publications? One has to keep in mind that in this era, there obviously was no social media, no Internet, no cable television (or any television for that matter), no radio, no telephone, and even the telegraph had yet to be invented. (Although experiments were being undertaken at this time, Samuel F.B. Morse did not send the first telegraphic message until 1844). It was therefore exceptionally difficult and time-consuming to prove the stories of „The Sun” as being false, because it would require sending a letter to South Africa, or sending someone to go there and find out for himself. As it turned out, there really was a John Herschel in South Africa who was conducting astronomical experiments, although of course he didn’t see anything similar to what „The Sun” reported him as seeing. The editor-in-chief of „The Sun”, Richard Adams Locke, knew very well that it would take at least several months for his hoax or „fake news” as we would say today, to be revealed.

Meanwhile, in New York, people couldn’t wait to get the latest issue of „The Sun”. The newspaper’s circulation rose remarkably, from 8,000 to over 19,000 copies, which resulted in its surpassing „The Times” of London, and becoming the newspaper with the highest daily circulation, in the world (Standage, 2017). The whole affair demonstrates that fake news can be quite profitable, but it wasn’t too long before rival newspapers exposed the hoax, thereby endangering the reputation of „The Sun” but as it turned out, there were new possibilities. It was more or less at this time, that the editors of daily newspapers, not just in New York City of course, came across the idea of sending some of their journalists to various courtrooms and even police stations. There was (and is) an almost limitless of human interest stories dealing with any and all manner of felonies and misdemeanors, which were and are of immense interest to many readers – and thus the crime story was born. It was in the long run, easier and of course more commercially viable, to send reporters to a nearby location to obtain the lurid details of some grizzly crime, than to make up stories about the Moon and what type of beings inhabit it. In addition, as time went, the editorial staffs of various newspapers came to understand that their readers highly valued trustworthiness, and the accompanying impartiality and objectivity, in their favorite daily newspapers.

Fake news nowadays

Nevertheless over the last several years, numerous search engines (not to mention social media as a whole of course), have shown and are showing such a plethora of stories and articles from all over the web and then of course, from all over the world. We can come across something that seems intriguing, an indeed almost innocent, and when we click on it, we may end up on some type of fake news site, or something even worse. Sometimes it could be someone who is pushing some type of political narrative, or someone just like the days of the „moon craze” of „The Sun” who simply wants to obtain as many clicks as possible, and ultimately, to generate as much revenue as possible. What it boils down to, is that the driving force behind many of these articles is above all monetary and not political.

„Fake news” is a big business again, unfortunately the dissemination of these fictitious stories only corrodes trust in the mainstream media, and the media in general, and thereby facilitates the distribution of „fake news” (The Knight Foundation, 2018). One of the most prominent curbs on „fake media” in the past, the concept that the media, whether it be print or broadcast journalism, had to protect its reputation, is no longer valid, the media giants don’t appear to manifest excessive concern regarding their public image in. Unfortunately this fact in itself facilitates the efforts of devious politicians, who want to spread lies, half-truths, etc., at their convenience.

Before we move on to some other subjects, it would behoove us to mention some other, more scandals involving fake news, in the XX and XXI centuries.

One of the most blatant affairs involving „fake news” involves the case of Walter Duranty, the correspondent of „The New York Times” in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Duranty for the most part, sat in Moscow and simply regurgitated the Communist propaganda of that period. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of 13 articles which he wrote in 1931, where he parroted Soviet propaganda – it seems the only Soviet citizen he quoted directly was Joseph Stalin. Even „The New York Times” in an official statement on the validity of Duranty’s being awarded the Pulitzer Prize, states that: „Taking Soviet propaganda in this way, was completely misleading”. His statement, made in May, 1933, concerning the famine („Holodomor”) in Ukraine in 1932–1933, in which millions of people perished, „But to put it bluntly, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” was criticized by some of his editors at „The New York Times” as being „tendentious” (New York Times Statement, n.d.).

Another instance of „fake news” occurred in 1938 but in the United States. Orson Welles broadcast a radio program referred to as „The War of the Worlds” loosely based on the H.G. Wells novel of the same title. To be honest Welles apparently said at the beginning of the broadcast that it was nothing more than a dramatization, but nevertheless, some of the listeners who tuned in after the program commenced, were convinced the World was under attack by alien invaders. Although there seems to have been reports of people panicking because believing that this „fake news” was real, the Federal Communications Commission did not punish Welles or CBS, the radio network broadcasting the program, but banned any complaints about the War of the Worlds from being brought up during licensing renewal.

Another more recent example of „fake news” involves the lead-up to the attack on Iraq in 2003. Once again it was „The New York Times” at center stage. They published a story, that was never verified by any other source, to the effect that Saddam Hussein had a compound where chemical and biological weapons were being produced (Miller, 2003). The articles, which were written by NYT reporter Judith Miller, were quoted by members of George Bush’s administration as one of the principle reasons why they could justify war with Iraq. Until today, people dispute the fact as to why the editors at this newspaper took this story of „weapons of mass destruction” without sufficiently verifying the sources, thereby rendering the newspaper open to being outmaneuvered by those who were distributing disinformation. Indeed, some of the editors of „The New York Times” deemed it necessary to issue an apology stating: „We consider the story of Iraq’s weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight” (From the editors, 2004).

Currently, another ongoing story involving „fake news” is the whole situation in Syria. The situation is of course very confused, and even representatives of the International Red Cross have called it an atmosphere of „information chaos”. The Syrian president, Bashar Assad, is quoted as saying „we are living in a fake news era”, and he went on to say that reports of a chemical attack that killed some 89 people were „100 percent fabrications” (Smith-Spark, 2017). In addition, he added that photos in which there were children who had been killed in this attack, were „fabricated” and even „unconvincing”. Notwithstanding these remarks, „The New York Times” later came to the conclusion that it was Syrian government forces that bombed an urban neighborhood using chemical weapons.

Yet another example of an on-going conflict rife with fake news is the situation in Ukraine. Some Russians informed journalists of „The Guardian” newspaper that they were being paid to inundate various Internet forums, and even social media with what could be considered as anti-Western and pro-Russian comments. These employees went on to say that they were ordered to post at least 50 articles a day, that they were to have a minimum of six Facebook accounts, with at least three posts a day, and that by the end of the first month, they were to obtain at least five posts on each of them a day. With regard to Twitter, they were to manage at least ten accounts, have some 2,000 followers, as hard to believe as it may seem, they were expected to send a tweet a minimum of fifty times per day. In response the Ukrainians founded the „Stop Fake” center (www.stopfake.pl).

Vice News provided some of the most interesting, thorough, and in-depth reporting on the Ukrainian-Russian conflict to be found anywhere, in 2014. Thanks to their series of reports entitled „Russian Roulette”, people all over the world were able to get something of an objective outlook at what was going on in eastern Ukraine. But the problem was, that even though (apparently) the two main journalists which Vice News employed, Simon Ostrovsky, who speaks fluent Russian, and Henry Langston, who apparently doesn’t speak either Russian or Ukrainian, at least not well, made what appears to be a sincere effort to get to truth, the viewer is sometimes at a loss to determine just what is „real news”, and what is „fake news”. For instance in episode 72, Henry Langston speaks with a woman who just had her home partially destroyed by a solitary artillery round. She said that it could have been from the Ukrainian military, Langston later says that „the assumption is, is that it is from the Ukrainian military but we can’t really be sure” (Langston, 2014a, 0:38 sec.). It even an eyewitness describing the event, let alone a journalist interviewing her can’t be sure, how on earth can the viewer be certain of what is happening? Later in the same episode, he converse with Ukrainian soldiers who assures him that they are fighting against regular airborne units of the Russian army, not with separatists from eastern Ukraine. In a later episode, number 78, Langston went to the city of Novoazovsk, to see for himself if there are any Russian military units there at all, and to his dismay (?) all he can find are people who say they are factory workers and coal miners, who affirm that there are no Russian military units anywhere in the vicinity (Langston, 2014b, 11:35). The quandary is, who is the normal viewer to believe? The journalists themselves made a valiant effort, at times at the risk of their own lives, to cross back and forth to monitor what people on both sides of the conflict had to say, and at the end of the day, is it the fault of the journalists, that representative of either of the two (or of both) sides are lying?

To reiterate, if the journalists themselves are unable to determine who is lying and when they are lying how can their public be certain of the truth – after all, one can’t exclude the possibility that someone might by lying part of the time, only later to be telling the truth at another time, and/or „stretching the truth”, „bending the truth” or simply exaggerating, the whole time.

Another example of „fake news” were the public opinion polls that were conducted in the United States during the primaries for president, and finally, for the presidential elections between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and of course Gary Johnson and Jill Stein as well). The problem with modern polling is that the polling companies generally make a poll of far too few people, and as a result, are unable to provide anything approaching an accurate forecast of election results. In an article entitled „Modern Polling Died Last Night – For Good” David Yee (2016) said that „polling is now as useful as voodoo to predict politics”, and added that: „In 2016, the pollsters measured all the wrong things – they totally ignored Millennials, totally ignored the working-class whites, and relied on ‘tried and true’ methods that gave them the worst sort of information possible”. Yee later quoted Larry Sabato, another pollster who was way off base in his predictions, who said: „We heard for months from many of you, saying that we were underestimating the size of a hidden potential Trump vote as well as his ability to win. We didn’t believe it and we were wrong” (Yee, 2016). One has to admit, that polling which is way off the mark in predicting the outcome of elections as in 2012, and considerably more so in 2016, may also be considered to be a form of „fake news”. In fact the „errors” in polling beggar the question as to whether the polling was done in an honest effort to predict election results, or was it simply a means to attempt to influence people to vote in a certain way – there is a portion of the electorate that wants above all, to vote for the winner.

Is it easy to detect fake news? At times it may be incredibly difficult. „Fake news” was a term often used by President Donald Trump during the election campaign and afterwards, and as some say, only with respect to journalists reporting news that he didn’t like.

The Pew Research Center issued a report containing data gathered in December 2016, where some 64% of those polled said that „fake news” caused a great deal of confusion in the election, 39% were confident that they could spot a fake news story, but as many as 25% admitted that they had shared stories that they knew at the time, or found out at a later date, were in fact fake (Bartel, 2016).

Once again however, it should be mentioned that differentiating genuine news, especially if it is a breaking story, from fake news, is even more important, and therefore difficult, in the digital age. Determining what is true, and what isn’t, has always been a laborious process as it (the truth) has to be separated from gossip, rumor, sloppy and/or incomplete reporting, spin, and of course outright hoaxes. To further aid us defining fake news, it would be of assistance if we could nail down just what it is, and what it isn’t with some examples.

According to the „Globe and Mail” (Annet, 2017) there are several reasons for the existence of fake news:

1.Money – there are no lack of fake sites, many of them based in Eastern Europe, land of these there seems to be quite a few from Macedonia, in order just to turn a profit from advertising income.

2.Politics – Heads of state, especially dictators, from ancient times until the present, have used the media to gain adherents and to spread disinformation among their enemies. Until not too long ago, this was normally referred to as simply propaganda, but recently this has come to mean, at least in some cases, artificial websites set up by one political entity (a state) using state funds to disseminate fake news in another.

3.Criminal activity – Computer hackers, if they are exceptionally good at what they do, can break into social media accounts and even the websites of what are considered serious media outlets, and thereby spread stories which are not genuine. At times they do this because they want to make money, at times because they want to destroy or promote a certain political ideology, and at times it’s as it were, just because they don’t seem to have anything better to do.

4.Gags – Sometimes this fake news is spread as a mischievous act, a gag, or joke that some people do just to see if someone, and how many people in general, will believe it.

5.Lack of scrutiny – It does occur that at times, some normal news providers don’t do their due diligence, and simply fail to verify what some people pass off as legitimate news.

Having delineated just what fake news is, it would behoove us to determine just what it isn’t.

1.Satire – Sometimes the public just isn’t, either because of their own volition or due to a lack of ability on their part, able to determine what satire is and what isn’t. At times this is due to the fact that sites which provides this satire, don’t unequivocally present it as being satire.

2.Normal sites that occasionally provide satire – There are instances where journalists, who may be writing an editorial, or a human interest story, or some other type of feature story, may revert to hyperbole, something hypothetical, or even satire, to get their point across to their public. Sometimes it’s not clearly presented as such, and therefore some people may be fooled.

3.Journalistic errors – Reporters, like everyone else and in fact, more than most people, have deadlines to meet, and therefore are pressed for time. They don’t completely verify stories, and themselves may be duped by some nefarious groups or organizations which want to disseminate fake news. Many observers and researchers are of the opinion, that if there is no premeditated, willful intent on the part of a journalist to provide false or incomplete information, this can’t be regarded as fake news.

4.Critical reporting – Sometimes the media when reporting a given story realizes that there exists a certain likelihood of that story being false. They may therefore report on what is already known, although with a certain degree of skepticism, until a later date when the truth will become evident.

5.Unfavorable journalism – Some people say that President Trump and others use the term „fake news” to describe journalism which they aren’t in favor of, or which presents them in a bad light. According to „Vox” he admitted that „fake news” just means news he doesn’t like (Lind, 2018).

Fake news and freedom of speech

All of the above is something of a history and explanation of what „fake news” was, is, and some of its characteristics, as well as how one may detect it. But does „fake news” have some more nefarious aspects which are being applied in the contemporary world, especially in the United States and Great Britain?

The problem is that on the one hand, Americans believe less and less of the media. In a sampling of various polls published in the „Business Insider” that the majority of what Americans say they consume on TV, the newspapers, and on the radio (62%) and 80% of what they see on social media is biased (Reiman, 2018).

Meanwhile „The Independent” cited an Ipsos poll, which said that 48% of those people who say they are Republicans, are of the opinion of Mr. Trump that „the news media is the enemy of the American people” and furthermore some 43% of Republicans feel that „the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior”. Furthermore, differences in opinion are pretty much along party lines, because 80% of Republicans said that „most news outlets have a liberal bias” as opposed to just 23% of Democrats, and 79% of Republicans and only 11% of Democrats agreed that: „The mainstream media treats Trump unfairly” (Riotta, 2018).

Meanwhile in Great Britain, a new national security unit, has been set up to deal with the problems of not just „fake news”, but also disinformation (however no guidelines are provided as to what the difference is between the two) (Walker, 2018). „This unit will more systematically deter our adversaries and help us deliver on national security priorities” according to the prime minister’s spokesman.

Theresa May however, criticized Donald Trump’s retweeting what some consider to be anti-Muslim videos that were originally posted by Jaydan Fransen, deputy leader of the „Britain First” organization. These tweets included showing a group of Muslims pushing a boy off a rood, Muslims destroying a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a Muslim hitting a Dutch boy on crutches (Weaver, Booth, & Jacob, 2017).

Several British politicians criticized Trump for retweeting the videos. Fraydan said: „I’m facing prison for criticizing Islam. Britain is now sharia compliant, I need your help!” Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said: „The threat is real, the threat needs to be addressed, and the threat has to be talked about and that’s what the president is doing in bringing that up.”

As far as the opinions of the Britons regarding social media, only 24% trusts Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram when looking for news and information, according to the Edelman trust barometer. Nevertheless, there was a 13% in support for the traditional media. In this its 16th annual survey, 64% of UK respondents worried that social media was not regulated enough, 69% said they did not do enough to prevent bullying, and 70% said that not enough was done to stop improper behavior on the networks (Sidique, 2018).

Another 53% said they were worried about fake news, especially on social media, and 42% said they only skimmed the headlines on social media, hence the increase in support for traditional media.

In closing, one could say, that fake news has always existed, from ancient times, perhaps even, from Adam and Eve, until today. Currently, people, perhaps as always, are more interested in hearing what they want to hear, something that is divorced from truthful, investigative journalism, a type of journalism that challenges their beliefs and requires them to think and analyze, and not just provide a confirmation of their own convictions and ethics.

Truthful journalism has always operated in a hostile environment. Poland, as well as the other countries of East-Central Europe, had to suffer several decades of Communist oppression, during which a healthy and vigorous samizdat or underground press flourished. Conditions aren’t that bad yet, but there will always be a substantial part of the public, which will consistently cherish sincere, honest, impartial, and accurate news. Let’s not lose hope.

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