This month saw the very origins of fake news; April Fools’ Day. Newspapers, radio and some TV love a good April fool. Making up a story that is so ridiculous some believe it, before a face palm moment after a check of the date. Obviously this is not where fake news started but the meaning of those two words has changed dramatically since it’s become part of the everyday journalism lexicon.
I recently attended an interesting discussion at Sky News about fake news and more pertinently, Donald Trump’s influence on the term. Since he became US President he has used fake news as a way to dismiss reporting he disagrees with. It’s been a clever strategy (or am I being too kind to Trump?). So vehement has he been with the use of the phrase, most people now use it for exactly the same reason.
Other prominent figures have followed. Jeremy Corbyn even used it to dismiss claims of disquiet in his shadow cabinet. That’s not fake news; that’s just political rumour and mischief. Very different to how fake news started in my eyes, with those ludicrous ‘Hillary Clinton is an alien’ type articles that appeared on social media. Mocked up articles made to look real that were initially funny then just another reason to turn off my Facebook feeds. That WAS fake news.
As Donald Trump has settled into the White House he’s manipulated the usage of the term so that people can easily dismiss journalism as fake news and deflect attention and focus. Like so much of the rhetoric from Washington lately, it’s a crude weapon against perfectly fair questioning.
But like many others I do not believe that Trump is or has been bad for journalism and the media. Quite the opposite. Sky News even created a Donald Trump tab on its website to collect all the content. He creates material almost daily and we in the media feed on it. Sometimes he even seems to create his own fake news without realising!
That debate at Sky News asked whether trust in journalism had fallen – with research indicating that it remains constant; constantly low. We are not a profession held in high regard by much of the public and that will probably never change. Journalism rates about the same as politicians, not something to be proud of.
What I’m thinking is that journalism should reclaim fake news and its meaning. Instead of letting people get away with dismissing rumour and accusation as fake news we throw it back and don’t let them use this flippant escape. Source stories properly; challenge politicians and officials and hit back at this lazy ‘fake news’ repost. I’d also really love to hear fake news said a lot less in the media, it has to be one of the most annoying terms since, err, Brexit. Better not get me started on that though.