The Misuse of “Fake News”

We all have shared something that we found out to be false, right?

Ideally, we should all be wise enough to check before we share. We should stop saying “sharing is caring” and start a new tagline “checking is sharing”. That is good principle to hold on to, especially given the nature of the internet.

The internet is public and things can go viral without prior planning. Perhaps you have experienced a situation where your social media post went viral (in your own relative definition of what viral is) without you expecting it.

If what went viral is beneficial and factual, then that’s okay. But what if it’s not? Deleting it would be a good thing to do. But the internet is forever. Meaning, if you uploaded it, then it’s probably will stay there forever even after deletion.

So be very careful with what you post or share online.

I just want to start this post with that advice, for myself and for anyone who is using the internet – especially social media (which is the majority of us, by the way). The real meat of this post is about fake news. More specifically, about the Anti Fake News Bill that was passed in Malaysia recently.

At the time that this post was written, there’s still a debate surrounding the bill: about the suspicious timing, about the punishment being too severe, about the possible redundancy, about the short time it took to pass, about the lack of clarity around the term “fake news”, and so on.

Given that this news is still hot from the oven, I want to let it cool down first before jumping to any conclusions. Having said that, I do want to point out something important about the term “fake news”.

Fake news has been around for some time now, but it is safe to say that the term gained traction around the time President Donald Trump was elected as president. Although he didn’t invent the term, it is safe to say that he popularized it.

If you look up the term “fake news” on Google Trends for the past 5 years, you can see that the number of searches for the term spiked up around President Trump’s presidential campaign and around his presidency (towards the end of 2016 and . Beyond that, it is clear that he likes the term considerin that he uses it a lot. I mean, a lot.

It seems that the fake news wave has reached our shores because we too started to use the term in our daily lives, particularly in our political discourse. To be clear, it is not the term that concerns me. If something is evidently fake, then we should call it fake news.

What concerns me is not the term. What concerns me is how we use it.

If we observe President Trump and how he uses the term “fake news” in his speeches, we can see an obvious pattern: He likes to use the term whenever he dislikes a particular news coming from the media. Especially news about himself.

This trend is worrying.

Disliking something doesn’t make it fake. We should separate between something we dislike and something being fake. Something that is fake means it doesn’t represent truth and reality. Something we dislike can be true and it can be real.

For example, I have gained weight over the past year or so. To be honest, I don’t like it. When someone points it out, I don’t like that too. But I can’t simply shout, “Fake news! I am still fit!” and sweep it under the rug.

I am running away from the truth by shielding myself behind the term “fake news” so that I don’t have to deal with the bitterness of reality.

We can use the term fake news in our conversations and debates. That’s fine. But make sure that we don’t use it in the face of a well thought out argument or news report. If people bring forth evidence and proof to support their claim, then we can’t simply say “Fake news!” and turn a blind eye.

We have to face it and discuss it like adults. If we want to fight the claim, then fight using our own well thought out argument with evidence and proof. If ours is stronger, then we should be closer to the truth. But if ours is weaker, then we have to admit that we are further from the truth. We should correct our mistake and move on.

There’s dignity in admitting that you’re wrong and in correcting your mistake.

That’s the ideal that we should strive for, especially in our political discourse. We fight proof with proof. That is more powerful and effective than bad-mouthing your opponent or using violence or shouting “Fake news!” in the face of bitter truth.