My first hand experience with fake news had involved that of the Colonel’s finest recipe chicken.
As I innocently tucked into my meal, I was told suddenly by my uncle: “What are you doing? Did you know that KFC don’t use real chickens for their food!” As I paused to listen in a mixture of English and Cantonese my uncle explain how he had seen a video of headless chickens which were raised in no amount of time to satisfy the many KFC consumers of the world. I would normally excuse my uncle’s (hopefully) misinformation as that of the older generation when it came to social media. My biggest surprise was that he was told this by his son and my cousin, someone who was even more of social media adept than myself!
Fake news is deep set in history; perhaps the most famous for children growing up in the UK is that eating carrots helps you see in the dark! This of course was cover for the allies and new radar technology. Fake news is pretty self explanatory, often consisting of a mixture of half truths and unverified claims. The rise of social media and the phenomena of when videos or news go viral has shown just how quickly news, whether it has a factual basis or not, and often with an agenda.
One only need to look at our cousins across the pond to see perhaps the most public figure to complain of fake news is the current US president, Donald Trump. “Fake news” he declared recently in response to The Sun’s story where the president had suggested the UK would not received a post-Brexit trade deal. Fake news’ prevalence as a term is such that it was named a 2017 word of the year by the Collins Dictionary.
Propagating or creating fake news is not in itself a crime, despite the lawsuits for libel over fake news which remain an offence. However you cannot deny the impact that fake news has on the public consensus, particularly those that despite being outlandish, could be believed to be true. Its impact has already been seen in the controversies surround the recent US election, is this an indication of dangers that fake news poses to western democratic societies?
Ultimately fake news proves definitively that controversy sells regardless of the content, though it remains to be seen whether the rule of law is able to adapt to challenge the issues that it creates and to protect those exploited by its spread.