What is behind the fake news agenda?

In view of the current deplorable events in Ukraine, I had a few thoughts on the issue of fake news that I would like to share.

I remember vividly how during the Brexit referendum campaign the pro-EU twitter ‘echo chamber’ was gobsmacked on a daily basis by outrageous and obviously untrue claims made by the two pro-Brexit campaigns (Vote Leave and Leave.eu) alike, along with some of the pro-Brexit pundits like Nigel Farage on any media that would let him talk, especially RT which even offered him a job.

We simply couldn’t get our heads around the audacity of those blatant lies, like the one that Turkey was going to join the EU with the implication that all 76* million inhabitants would descend on the UK under EU Freedom of Movement rights. When in reality, it was the UK within the EU that was openly supporting the accession of Turkey and even after Brexit, in my opinion in order to increase the EU internal market by exactly those same 76* million, from which UK businesses would benefit.

What was even more dumbfounding, though, was the massive acceptance of these lies which were being shared on Twitter (among other social media channels) pretty much unchallenged by anyone other than by those who ended up being scorned as ‘remoaners’ while official news outlets, notably the BBC, were conspicuously silent on this subversive ‘alternative news’ phenomenon.

If this first push to sow doubt among people was successful in allowing the pro-Brexit campaign to win the referendum, to all intents and purposes to their own surprise, we then saw the next phase of the process of alienating citizens from legitimate news sources with President Donald Trump’s crusade against any mainstream media outlet critical of him or his policies by accusing them of purveying fake news when he himself was spreading fake news as a matter of course. Fact-checkers put the number of ‘untruths’ (politically correct moniker for the more blunt word ‘lie’) at an astonishing 30,573 over his four years in power, averaging 21 per day. We now had serious journalism being accused of producing fake news while the accusers were spreading fake news themselves prolifically and quite openly.

These days we see the same playbook being used by Russia against Ukraine and the rest of the world, and as I couldn’t help noticing when reading comments on posts about the war on LinkedIn, quite successfully so. To me, reading many of these comments feels like the Brexit referendum campaign all over again.

I am still not sure what the end game is supposed to be because for this strategy of destabilising societies by sowing mistrust to work, it is necessary to have enough people who believe the real fake news over the fake fake (i.e. ‘real’) news. It also, in my opinion arrogantly so, presumes that those believers are not at some stage lured away by yet another player who – for better or worse – manages to use the gullibility that fake news believers have been trained in to their own end.

I will certainly keep an eye on developments in a professional capacity as in a world where anyone can seemingly state anything under the cover of ‘truth’, as a professional who assists multilingual communication I may be forced at some point to choose who I am prepared to lend my voice to. But I will also keep an eye on myself because naturally, I cannot be absolutely sure that I get all my information from trustworthy sources and am not becoming a victim of confirmation bias myself in the attempt to stay close to the truth.

* As claimed on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign poster. The official figure for 2015, which this claim would sensibly be based on, is 78.5 million.