Not really, but language is our primary way to communicate. “This statement is false,” is a classic example of recursive writing. Sometimes I enjoy annoying, contradictory statements; these conundrums are good exercise for our understanding of language, our value judgements and our unchallenged intellectual sides. Fake news is fiction dressed up in the trappings of fact. Those who are fooled operate on faulty assumptions. Snopes may not be enough to save us.
How important is what we believe? We make choices every day based on information from others. For long stretches of our history, Americans expected, and demanded professional journalism; we challenged the news with research of our own; we relied on professional information gatherers and presenters; we cherished objectivity. Walter Cronkite is the example that comes to mind. He and his news team did not editorialize; they presented the facts they could verify plainly; even when the news was painful, such as the Kennedy assassination, he held his emotions in check, almost.
As the era of journalism fades in our collective awareness, we stumble into an epoch of opinion; the 24-hour news age Ted Turner invented is voracious; anything to fill the hours. The demand grew for titillating, shocking, insidious, intentional, or just stupid, public lying; I guess there was not enough honest scandal, hyperbole, deception, libel, and defamation.
Now we find completely fabricated articles, meant to harm specific people or raise undue alarm among us. Free speech, or libel? First Amendment rights, or vicious cowardice? It seems we are reaping what we have sown. We have become victims of our society’s lax attitude towards rigor and honor. We have grown lazy and unwilling to check the things presented to us.
Frankly, I am glad. Not for the bad things that follow such propaganda, but for the possible reawakening of doubt, curiosity, and inquiry. Of all the innovations of the 20th century, the internet connection of millions of individuals is the most important, because it reveals and magnifies our human nature and limits. Our naivete allowed us to be fooled by sources we trusted. At last, we know we must check the sources and validity of our vast ocean of daily information.
Humans are suspicious by nature; evolution has left this trait engraved in our genes. But we can be lulled into gullibility, and we have been. The opinions of writers and editors may vary all along the spectrum of belief; perspectives may open many windows of human experience; but some grounded facts must be present to sort and distort. Fake news is just written lies and gossip without honest attribution.