‘The Fake News We Should Really Fear’ article in Morning Star

28 Oct

A further collaboration with colleagues Matthew Alford and Stephen Harper.

WE LIVE in an era where paranoid political fantasies are not just commonplace but consequential.

In the US, Donald Trump swept into the Oval Office on a wave of outlandish narratives — demonising Hillary “lock her up” Clinton and Barack “born in Kenya” Obama.

The latest iteration, spilling out unmasked onto British and US streets, is a conspiracy theory called QAnon in which a cabal of Satanic paedophiles is said to control the economy through the manufacture of a bogus virus.

According to believers, among them several Congressional candidates for the November elections, Trump himself is secretly working to thwart this dastardly plot.

The mainstream has recently clamped down hard on fringe theories.

In 2017, Google’s Project Owl aimed to relegate “post-truth” stories in its search results.

Sites like the World Socialist Website consequently plummeted down the search lists, while words like “imperialism” and “inequality” led users to corporate instead of independent outlets.

By 2018 the repeal of Federal Communications Commission rules ended so-called “net neutrality.”

That same year, the BBC launched a range of programming designed to counter “fake news” and, in summer 2020, the warning label “state-affiliated” began appearing across social media channels, meaning that those channels will not be recommended or amplified.

On October 6, Facebook outright banned Qanon.

It is perfectly sensible to help media audiences identify poorly sourced or scientifically discredited arguments and to defend the victims of paranoid vigilantes.

Nevertheless, this fretful focus on the fringes misses the point on conspiracy theories.

Read the rest of the article for free here.

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