On November 8th, 2016 I was sitting on the floor in front of the television in a group of sobbing adults. And I do not mean the kind of adult snibbling depicted in movies. No, these were genuine heaving sobs. I will never forget the crushing atmosphere of despair in that room. The cries of my loved ones as if someone had driven a knife through their hearts. But what could cause such an outcry of anguish and sorrow? Donald Trump had just been elected president. They were emotional over the fact that a racist sexist bigot had just been elected president. But I wasn’t crying. I was too busy thinking. And I wasn’t thinking about racism or sexism. I was thinking about fake news. Fake news is defined as “false stories that appear to be news” by Cambridge dictionary, and was a key tactic in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Not the telling of fake news, although there was some of that, but the accusing of news sources to be fake. We saw it again and again during his campaign. A news source would publish something he didn’t like, and he would accuse them of being fake news. And it worked. People believed him. And it just left me feeling helpless, because there was nothing anyone could do about it. So I did some research to see if there was anything anyone could do, and I noticed a pattern. The discrediting and censorship of the media has been a constant in US politics since the very beginning. And today it has taken a new, far more terrifying form: fake news. Fake news threatens the very foundation of America.
John Adams (The Beginning):
It all started with a sad little man by the name of John Adams. He was our second president, and he did some great stuff. He signed the Declaration of Independence, oversaw the infamous XYZ affair, and passed the first ever media censorship law! What a guy! John Adams saw a lot of resistance from Democratic Republicans in his time in the white house, and so he made a decision that would change our country forever, and set us down the dark path we now tread. He passed The Sedition Acts. What were the Sedition Acts? Well as ushistory.com so eloquently puts it “No protesting the government? No immigrants allowed in? No freedom of the press. Lawmakers jailed? Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War? No. It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.” (“The Alien and Sedition Acts.”). In essence the Sedition Acts made it illegal to criticize the government, both as an individual and as the press. Believe it or not people didn’t like that very much, so it was later repealed. However, the damage had been done. He had set the precedent of treating free speech as a privilege rather than a right. A deadly precedent.
(“Court Rules for Newspapers”)
Vietnam war (The Resolution):
58,820 US soldier died in Vietnam. 58,820 US citizens lost their lives. 117,640 parents never saw their children again. Why? Well the government wanted us to believe it was because we were preventing the spread of communism. Now even if that were the reason it’ still stupid. Losing 58,820 US citizens because we don’t like how Vietnam is running their country. It’s a waste. But that is not why we fought the Vietnam war. And we didn’t know, because the government didn’t want us to know. “The Pentagon Papers was the name given to a top-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967”(“Pentagon Papers.”). The contents of these papers said what had been on many Americans minds already, the United States could not win the Vietnam War. They stayed simply because it would have embarrassed America to surrender. Those 58,220 people died because the U.S. didn’t want to be embarrassed, and thats not even counting the Vietnamese casualties! But that’s not what we were told. It’s not what the public was told. We knew we couldn’t win and that info was labeled unfit for the public eye. But the war wasn’t. The government was totally fine sending that same public out to die in Vietnam, but god forbid we risk their safety by exposing those documents! But the worst violation of all came after the files were released when the U.S. government tried to sue the companies that exposed the documents in The New York Times Co. vs The United States. This court case was plain and simple the U.S. government trying to censor the press. The government didn’t like their dirty little secret being dragged into the light. So they dragged it back into their domain, the courts. Unfortunately they forgot that they were the ones breaking the law, and the court ruled against the United States on the ground of freedom of press. On the surface this story may seem like a happy one. Newspapers win! Hooray! But look closer and you’ll see the deeper issues at work. It took 20 years for that info to surface. 20 years and 58,220 people. The government had been willing to sacrifice us the whole time. And once that was exposed they fought for their “right” to do so. Sure. They lost the case, but media censorship had taken its toll. In lives.
Back to Fake News:
So what? We won the case. Media censorship is over. Well… Yeah. It is. Government censorship of the press seems to be a thing of the past, but something far worse has taken it’s place. Fake News. You laugh, but let me explain. Sure. It is illegal for the government to censor us, but what if I told you they don’t need to. Why censor the media if no one believes them anyway? That is the basic underlying psychology behind Fake News. It is 2018. Every person has a super computer in their back pocket. It is amazing! And is also not so slowly dismembering our democratic republic. Let me explain. Photoshop, and other such software, make it possible to doctor pictures and videos however one pleases. This is super fun and you can have some good laughs putting a picture of your friend onto a horse or whatever, but it becomes a problem when it comes to news. This software has gotten to a point where it is virtually impossible to distinguish the real from the fake. The ramifications are terrifying. The video below perfectly demonstrates my point. Give it a watch and then keep reading.
Terrified? Well you should be! It is tech like this that makes the “fake news” idea that much more appealing. We can’t know whats real, and in the absence of fact people believe whatever is most convenient. And that, believe it or not, is a problem. The first amendment, the one the founding fathers said “hey that seems super important so lets put it first”, states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press“. So why did they think this was so gosh darn important? Well the freedom of press was established to ensure that the press would be protected from the government so that they could publish the truth in order to inform the public. This was a great sentiment that proved invaluable throughout US history. But it has gone from a solution to an excuse. The problem it aimed to solve has all but disappeared, and what we’re left with is this: Printing lies? Freedom of press. Outrageous slander? Freedom of press. Passing off opinions as fact? Freedom of press. What started as invaluable tool to the public to fight against oppression is now being used to oppress. It is being abused by social media sites and news companies alike to blast political opinions directly into our heads. And in the process they are discrediting all of the genuine journalism and news that comes from other sources. They are muddying the water and enabling politicians (such as Donald Trump) to point a picture at the media and say those two fateful words: “fake news”. And the result of this is a building distrust of the media. This trend has opened the door to all media being labeled fake. We are entering an era where opinion, not fact, will rule our country. James Carson, a senior writer for The Telegraph went so far as to say “fake news was not a term many people used 18 months ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the Western order.” (Carson). He goes on to explain how misinformation is the bane of democracy everywhere. Without accurate information democracy cannot succeed. In order to cast a good vote you need reliable information on the candidate, and when reliable information isn’t available and you end up with a situation like we currently have in Russia with Putin. Putin is infamous for his use of misinformation to influence Russian politics. “For Putin, Disinformation is Power” (Ostrovsky). And it’s true. Putin’s control over the media ensures his control over the country. And if we want to prevent a similar situation in the US and avoid the death of American Democracy we need to deal with fake news. Democracy cannot function without reliable media. Without information you are voting blind. And this can have drastic consequences (see the president).
The purpose of the news is to inform us as to what is going on in the world. We rely on it to inform us of what we don’t know. And when they don’t do that the world devolves into chaos. I mean come on. The news loses credibility and a few months later a reality TV star is in the white house. Coincidence? I think not! Fake News as I’ve said plays off the idea that any information you are receiving can be fake because some of it is fake. Well what if none of it was fake news? What if it was all undoubtedly true? Well it can be! What I propose is passing regulations that make it ILLEGAL to publish something as fact unless it can be verified as such. I’ve seen too many idiots on media spewing opinions as if they were facts. They don’t offer sources or studies or facts to support their claims. They just say it. This is contrary to everything the press was founded to do. The purpose of news is to inform. Inform with real, verifiable information. If the news is not doing this then it is not real news. It is, in fact, fake news. And I for one don’t believe that fake news deserves the protections granted by the freedom of press. So I propose not only stripping those protections away, but also actively censoring the media. Now hold your horses offended Americans. I know what you’re thinking: “Thats unconstitutional!”. Well you are correct. It is. But lets go back to the constitution. Back to the freedom of press, which was founded in order to ensure the government could not censor information from the public. Well I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment. No information should be held from the public. But if its not information then it doesn’t need to be, and quite frankly shouldn’t be on the news. I am a strong believer in difference of opinion. Open discourse keeps everything running smoothly. Freedom of speech is very important. But the news is not meant for a sharing of opinions. There are plenty of mediums for discussion. The news is for facts. Cold, hard, verified facts. What I suggest is holding the media accountable. Specifically in the form of Transparency Laws. As Wikipedia so eloquently puts it “In politics, transparency is used as a means of holding public officials accountable and fighting corruption. When a government’s meetings are open to the press and the public, its budgets may be reviewed by anyone, and its laws and decisions are open to discussion, it is seen as transparent.”(Transparency (Behavior)). I propose this same concept be applied to the media. I want everything to be out in the open. Sources, sponsors, methods, you name it I want it. This would incite a degree of accountability as all the factors would be on the table, but I propose taking it a step further. I propose taking that information and censoring the media that does not have credible, viable, factual sources. If you cannot verify the information then it is not information and has no place in the news. Freedom of press was not meant to protect liars. It was meant to ensure an informed public, which is essential to our way of life. I think its time we lived up to those sentiments. The time for freedom of speech is over. Now is the time for freedom of information.
So What now?
To give get involved press 1 to give me feedback press 2
Carson, James Titcomb; James. “Fake News: What Exactly Is It – and How Can You Spot It?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 14 Nov. 2017, www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/fake-news-exactly-has-really-had-influence/.
“Court Rules For Newspapers.” Www.eldredgeatl.com, Www.eldredgeatl.com, www.eldredgeatl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/court-headline.jpg.
“Fake News.” I.pinimage.com, I.pinimage.com, s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/79/51/94/795194db204aa07bc146578d01d925f8.jpg.
Ostrovsky, Arkady. “Opinion | For Putin, Disinformation Is Power.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2016/08/06/opinion/for-putin-disinformation-is-power.html.
“Pentagon Papers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2011, www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/pentagon-papers.
“The Alien and Sedition Acts.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/19e.asp