The term “fake news” has become both a meme and a relevant pop-culture phenomenon in the recent years due to its increasing popularity with the President of the United States Donald J. Trump.
President Trump first used the phrase when calling out CNN after they posted a series of negative articles covering the then-candidate in the presidential race. Since being elected, the only things to increase faster than the president’s use of the phrase were the memes and jokes that followed.
As a result, the term fake news is used to describe nearly anything for the sake of humour, having the true and serious meaning of the phrase constantly overlooked. In truth, fake news culture is more harmful than the memes would have you believe.
It is important to note that the acceptance of the term into meme culture is a side effect of President Trump’s political goal. It scares the average person into a toxic relationship with mainstream media networks as noted by Cory Wimberly in his research on propaganda.
The resulting collective consciousness becomes one where the average citizen has a distrust for the organizations that are supposed to guarantee unfettered access to accurate, truthful information and allow an intimate view into inner political circles. Even organizations once thought to hold credibility are not safe from the illogical and often overkill skepticism held by people in this new culture sphere.
Why is it a problem if the average person does not have faith in the news media? It comes down to the role of the media in the democratic machine. The press is a tool of the people to hold the government of the day accountable for their choices. The press is a lens for the public to see into the inner workings of the government and to understand it.
What happens when no one can trust the media? When the press loses validity, so does a limb of the democracy of that country. When people cannot trust the press, they often blindly trust other authority figures in their spheres of reference, namely, the government.
The issue with having the government regulating the information that people receive is that bias is inevitable. Motivated by self-interest and political preservation, the government can frame any action in a way that is deceitful and misleading to the public.
How does this affect the average person who may or may not be deeply involved in politics? It is actually quite simple. This specific case acts as a catalyst for misinformation. More specifically, it blurs the line between valid and non-valid sources. Blurring these lines leaves room for radical groups to claim legitimacy, stating mistrust in the government as their reason and proof for existing — for example, flatearthers.
Adding to this, the legitimacy and importance of issues of this nature are undermined. While memes provide quality content, they often make light and hide the relevance of the issue. In these cases, the President of the United States actively engages in creating propaganda for the people of his country.
This is the very definition of propaganda that serves to misinform rather than serve democracy. A publicly supported, unbiased free press that cannot be bullied by political leaders who aim to discredit the information is a fundamental protection for our system of democracy, and indeed, for global humanity.
Graphic: Shawna Langer