Fake news, we have all read some online. Most is easy to spot, with wild exaggerations and conspiracies – obvious for being such. But what happens when an online news source is deemed by thousands to be more informative and honest than the Mainstream Media? When editors of said news site have links to the President Elect?
Obviously it is Breitbart we are talking about here; the fascists’ – sorry, that was not very politically correct – Alt Right, Nationalists (as Fascists like to call themselves these days) rag of choice.
Breitbart has aligned itself with the European populist right and American alt-right under the management of former executive chairman Steven K. Bannon (pictured above with Trump). The New York Times describes Breitbart News as an organization with “ideologically driven journalists”, that is a source of controversy “over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist”. Steven Bannon himself still faces accusations of racism, anti-semitism and having white supremacist leanings. Some are even going so far as to state that Bannon has become the ‘Voice of Racism‘ within Trump’s cabinet.
Another Breitbart editor with links to Donald Trump – Raheem Kassam (far right)
The fact that the soon-to-be POTUS Trump has invited Bannon and the ‘Alt Right’ into the Whitehouse, and indeed actually given them important positions, is cause for concern enough. But even more worrying is that many political commentators believe that Breitbart, which has actively sought support from white supremacists, actually helped with Donald Trump’s election victory. The media influencing elections is nothing new.
But the danger posed by Breitbart goes further than even the manipulation we have seen from Murdoch’s news empire.
Breitbart has a long history of producing material dedicated to hate speech. Obviously, Breitbart itself denies it is a fake news site, even though the online fact checking site Snopes has page after page debunking Breitbart articles. But, even when proven to be exaggerations or down right lies, most people who read the fabricated stories on social media actually believe them.
Take this shocking article for example:
Which was quickly picked up by other far right sites and pages and shared many thousands of times on social media.
This is pretty frightening stuff, a church in Germany set alight and the police attacked by over 1000 Muslims…except none of it is actually true.
The article was attributed to German news site Ruhr Nachrichten, which hit back on Wednesday, accusing Breitbart of “using our online reports for fake news, hate and propaganda.” As Ruhr Nachrichten pointed out, Breitbart attributed separate unconnected incidents to a larger, collective “mob”.
“There was in fact a total of around 1,000 people gathered to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Leeds Square, including “large and small groups” of young, foreign men as well as families with children, according to Ruhr Nachrichten. The original report by the local news site from that night describes how some individuals did start launching fireworks from within the crowd towards police, who told them to stop but were ignored. Broadcaster WDR reported that officers then issued orders for some people to leave and took some into custody. While Breitbart wrote that the “mob” set the roof of Germany’s oldest church on fire, Ruhr Nachrichten pointed out that this was also not accurate. St. Reinold is not Germany’s oldest church – that would be the Cathedral of Trier – and a small fire had started on some netting on scaffolding around the church, not the roof, due to one firework.” – Read More
Exaggerations and lies; the stock in-trade of demagogues and propagandists throughout history. Even though the true facts behind the article have surfaced, the damage has already been done. The majority of people who read it will not bother to fact check and a great many, even when shown the truth, will believe it to be Governments trying to cover up the truth: that the fake news is real and the real news is fake.
What can be done about the proliferation of fake news? Germany is proposing to fine social media companies if they do not remove fake news articles. Is censorship the way forward? Although ‘fake news’ is generally viewed as a problematic issue which needs to be dealt with, the more liberty-minded have cautioned vociferously that even light censorship of ideas will cascade into widespread editing of thought. But can fake news be allowed to continue to shape the public conscience? Anyone who spends even a small amount of time on social media will witness comment after comment by people who have obviously bought into the lies and spin of the far right. Whereas in the past people would struggle to find like minded individuals in which to share and validate their views, social media has made it simple for them to get together in groups and on pages. The far right are on the rise throughout the world: Trump in the USA; Orban in Hungary; LePenn in France; the AFD in Germany; Wilders in the Netherlands; Da’esh; Putin, the list goes on and on. Just how much of this rise can be attributed to fake news and its proliferation on social media is a debate for another day. But never forget this.