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Fake news: what it really means

Fake? Or just unpopular?

Fake? Or just unpopular?

There’s a growing tendency for people to start shouting “fake news!” at the slightest provocation – and the phrase has now been named “Word of the Year” by dictionary compiler Collins.

But what actually is fake news?

If you take a look at any of the social media pages dealing with Manx news, people scream “fake news” every time the government claims something.

And therein lies a serious misunderstanding – when news outlet report “someone said something”, it’s a very different proposition from the outlet saying “something is true”.

In general, if someone’s claiming that something is true, a journalist will hold off judgement. It’s up to the audience to decide for themselves whether they believe it, particularly when it comes to politics.

Yes, there are fact checks – but if a politician or company wants to claim black is white, shouldn’t that be reported?

Am I fake or not?

Fake news is pretty easy to spot – it’s when someone falsifies a story (usually aimed at damaging something or someone) and sensationalises it.

So: Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake news. The Department of Infrastructure issuing comfier spades to lean on is fake news.

What fake news isn’t is something you disagree with.

So the Isle of Man’s economic prosperity is not fake news. The government saying it’ll take all views into account during consultations is not fake news. A minister saying we’re a well-regulated jurisdiction which helps fight tax evasion is not fake news.

All of those stories are simply tales people may not believe – which is very different from fake news.

Fake, tattle and troll

A couple of weeks ago, the Chief Minister delivered a State of the Nation speech to Tynwald, where he criticised the problem of “fake news”. What he was talking about was the likes of this:

"Wot I reckon is..."

“Wot I reckon is…”

Someone on Facebook (who doesn’t live in social housing) thinks they know what all the millionaires in social housing (a) earns, (b) drives and (c) does in their spare time. And they missed the point means-testing is already in place for local authority tenants.

Treating a yell into the howling social media void as fact is actually textbook fake news.

Or how about this, from the same group – this time from an administrator:

James Corrin's take on an MHK who lost a democratic election

James Corrin’s take on an MHK who lost a democratic election

Did James forget John Houghton “forgot” to pay into his pension, then refused to apologise to parliament after bullying Tynwald staff – before being voted out during an election in 2016?

Claiming he was somehow “kicked out” of Tynwald for daring to expose an imaginary scandal is textbook fake news.

The Great Manx Fake Off

The real problem is that crying “fake news” every time you don’t like something you read or hear actually damages the media and journalism. It may be reporting an unpopular point of view, but does that mean you shouldn’t hear it?

Consider – people say ministers get too much coverage but that’s far better than letting the government do things without you knowing. The discussion takes place after you’ve heard what’s planned or said.

And trying to blur the line between real and fake news will only mean you’re less well-informed in future. Sure, there’s a place for social media, but I don’t see anyone from Isle of Man News & Politics in Tynwald or court actually covering the story. “I get my news from social media” actually means “I get my news from the mainstream media’s stories shared on social media”.

After all, if you want good examples of fake news all you have to do is see the nonsense spouted on exactly that sort of political Facebook group.

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