Note: Last week I wrote a column about fake news. Someone has drawn my attention to a column on the same subject written by my friend and former colleague Dave Obee, who is the Editor in Chief at the Victoria Times Colonist. He once said I could feel free to publish his column any time he writes something I particularly like, and I like this one, so here it is.
AN AMERICAN friend on Facebook posted a comment the other day on a rather disturbing video, one that showed three young white males fighting in a parking lot with an older black male.
The video has been shared more than 47,000 times, the last time I checked. The original post has been viewed more than 2.5 million times, and it has had more than 8,700 comments. I’m sure there are comments on the 47,000 shared pages, but no, I did not go looking for them.
Most of the people commenting on the video have agreed with the semi-literate sentiments expressed in the original post — “3 Racist attack innocent Black man while yelling get out of my country, is this what they mean when they say make America great.”
Some people wrote about how the fight reflects “Trump’s America,” and others swore that they wished they had been there. Some said they hoped that the three white men would be deported from America. Some said that is “why we have the Second Amendment.”
The video brings to mind the fight that was recorded in Courtenay in July 2009 — the one usually described as being at the McDonald’s on Cliffe Avenue, but which was actually in the parking lot of the apartment building across 18th Street.
That fight raised concerns about racism in Courtenay. It also led to charges and convictions against the three white men involved.
Now, there is a good reason why the new video would bring memories of the earlier one: It’s the same fight.
Some clever person took a seven-year-old video, shot on Vancouver Island, and has twisted it into an anti-Trump commentary on Facebook. The misinformed masses, 2.5 million of them at last count, are eating it up.
Welcome to the world of fake news. Welcome to an age where truth is not valued, and where devious people are twisting reality to shape their own biases and fit their own agendas.
To make matters worse, millions of people are falling for it. That hurts all of us, whether you use Facebook to keep you informed or not.
It doesn’t help that president-elect Donald Trump rails against the media every chance he gets. It’s no surprise that he is doing that; he needs to convince his followers that there is only one truth, and it comes from him.
Of course he will try to undermine the people who might challenge him and present evidence that is contrary to his message.
But those who opposed Trump are not without guilt, as the fight video proves. Both sides are eager to out-lie each other, and fool all of the people all of the time.
Where does this move to fake news — where lies and biases thrive, where truth no longer matters — leave the established media?
First, as more people turn to Facebook and Google for their information, more people will lose touch with what is really happening. They see information that is patently false and they believe it; they read posts that confirm their own biases.
They don’t get exposed to opposing points of view, and that is bad. They don’t get information that will help them decide who they should vote for. Democracy suffers, and no, that statement is not over the top.
Second, consider the state of the media business today. It has been estimated that Google and Facebook are getting about three-quarters of all digital advertising revenue.
The rest of the money is divided between the established media outlets, the newspapers and radio stations and television stations that are providing much of the content for Google and Facebook.
Journalists hate hearing this, but ad revenue pays their salaries. How much are Google and Facebook spending on gathering and reporting the news? Zilch. They employ no journalists. They rely on everyone else to contribute for free — and objectivity and responsibility be damned.
Those two companies make millions from the fake news posts being placed online every second of every day. Think they are going to attack the flow of fakery? That would seriously harm their profits.
Meanwhile, gullible, misinformed people are continuing to spread that video from Courtenay, based on false notions of what it shows.
And that is just one small example. We — journalists and readers alike — should be very, very worried.
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