The term “fake news” has become common currency over the past couple of months, but like many terms that go viral online, the meaning of the phrase “fake news” has morphed and shifted. It now means something completely different than it did back in October 2016, when it was used to describe spurious news stories, such as “Hillary Clinton is about to be arrested by the FBI on charges of paedophilia and treason!”, which came out immediately prior to the U.S. election.
The term “fake news” peaked with the advent of “Pizzagate”, the conspiracy theorists’ wet dream (literally) about the Democratic party allegedly running Satanic child-trafficking networks out of a popular pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. The day a gunman walked into Comet Ping Pong, shot the lock off a door that he thought would lead him to the “secret tunnels” where children were being sexually abused, marked the apex of the term “fake news”. Once the conspiranoids realised they’d been outed as delusional nutters, they grabbed the idea of fake news and began applying it to any news emerging from non-conspiranoid sources.
In this article on Medium, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan describes how “fake news” has been co-opted to mean any number of things, depending on who you’re listening to:
…(T)hough the term hasn’t been around long, its meaning already is lost. Faster than you could say “Pizzagate,” the label has been co-opted to mean any number of completely different things: Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn’t like to hear.
Thus, those who believe in the Hampstead SRA hoax, for example, might be expected to refer to anything that flies in the face of their devoutly held beliefs as “fake news”, while still touting the idea that huge groups of children are being raped, murdered, and eaten on a daily basis by hundreds of “cult” members, who are somehow just very, very clever at cleaning up all the physical evidence of their orgies. Oh, and no word of this has ever leaked out, despite the presumed involvement of thousands of people, because…well, just because.
Ms Sullivan has a very simple proposal to help us navigate the tricky waters of what does and does not constitute fake news, however.
We need to start by realising that the term “fake news” is so imprecise as to be meaningless. To some, it might mean “satire”, as in sites like The Onion. To others, it means “partisan journalism”, as in sites like Breitbart News or The Drudge Report or the Center for American Progress. To still others, it means “anything produced by the mainstream media” (another imprecise term, but we won’t get into that right now).
So Ms Sullivan says that those of us who stand up for the truth, no matter what flavour it happens to be, need to simply stop using the term “fake news”, and start calling things what they really are:
Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it. Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, “fake news” is an imprecise expression to begin with.
Our team and commenters at Hoaxtead Research are pretty good at doing this already, but we think it’s important to adopt this as a deliberate strategy in the ongoing war against the conspiritainment industry and those who perpetuate this hoax against innocent citizens. We’re all very aware of the power of words, especially on the internet, and their ability to shape the perceptions and beliefs of those who read them. So in these precarious “post-truth” times, we think it’s critically important for everyone to call falsehoods out, loudly and publicly, when we see them.
Because if not us, who? And if not now, when?