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HAYWIRE Issue 10 Fall 2017


HAYWIRE Issue 10 Fall 2017 “Fake news has always been around – from American independence leaders publishing stories of British troops massacring peaceful citizens to the New York Sun claiming to have discovered a civilisation on the moon in 1835”(Armstrong). The struggle to find candor amidst barrages of propaganda could be said to be an inherent fight in any democracy, or even any civilization. However, the precipitous drop that occurred in media control with the popularization of online news sources reduced the amount of hurdles someone would Fake News In Politics by Ailie Gieseler, 11a have to mount in order to publish a seemingly credible piece of information, and hailed the rise of pseudo scientific studies and untrustworthy websites. The time pressure that journalists face in an era so used to instant updates has also created unique journalistic phenomena, like for example ‘cyclical journalism’. This occurs when a media outlet will bring out an article, then another source will write an article on the same event, enabling the author of the original work to cite it as the source of said information. This makes the simple act of ‘fact checking’ far more difficult, and its effects are seen in people’s online activity. However not only the simple existence of untrue information harms the political sphere. Propagating a widespread rhetoric of fake news destabilizes the belief in the mainstream media outlets and allows partisan inclinations to rule an individual’s vote. “Gallup polls reveal a continuing decline of ‘trust and confidence’ in the mass media ‘when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly’” (Alcott & Gentzkow, Journal of Photos by Finnegan Wagner, 11d 20

Economic Perspectives). The deterioration of trust occurred particularly amongst Republicans in 2016 as a possible effect of the republicans’ presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, thematizing his distrust in mainstream media repeatedly. This, along with the oversaturation of information from various media platforms lead to filter bubbles in which an individual can pick and choose the tidbits of information which he or she is partial to. Especially the bipartisan party system established in the United States can lead to the alluring nature of believing this rhetoric, and discounting any news outlets that criticize a persons beliefs. Confirmation bias and a lack of fact-checking then leads the recipients of both fake and valid news to only brand the articles in their favour as credible. In a political system where two parties present a very polarized and emotional pair of values this subconscious phenomenon occurs even more frequently, since the notion of accepting information in the favour of opposition puts most people in a quite vulnerable and uncomfortable position. Adding another element of doubt in certain media outlets, and suffusing the market with fake news in a certain party’s favour then suddenly becomes a quite plausible strategy, since most individuals will lack the critical motivation to check whether the information they have consumed includes a trace of authenticity. Instead they Photo by Finnegan Wagner, 11d allow themselves to dismiss or believe something on the basis of whether it applauds their already set morals. Professor Patrick Leman, executive dean at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience explains this quite cohesively. “People are always looking for information that confirms their beliefs, in the short term, fake news can even help with self-esteem. But it’s a quick fix - the more you do it, the more you need it and the more you move away from reality.” In any situation the realization of logical flaws in one’s conviction subverts the own ego, and so the notion labeling anything else as false presents a uniquely seductive opportunity. However this behaviour provokes fatal consequences when it leads people to support political ideologies that do not benefit them. This art of manipulation changes the media landscape and maneuvers it into a position politicians can benefit from. It corrodes the credence attributed to the more reliable and established media outlets by allowing people to choose the most comforting message while dismissing all else as fake news, which can be almost even more dangerous than the simple naivety of believing a false story. It can also lead to a certain parties’ or individuals’ image being heavily distorted. Overall the anomaly of fraudulent reporting destabilizes a political system by causing an increase in disbelief and paranoia, and enabling people to act on their inherent biases and feelings instead of logic. 21 HAYWIRE Issue 10 Fall 2017

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