Granting any form of sovereignty must be done with a precaution of unwarranted exploitations. Freedom is a reciprocated trust between two parties, where the entity that grants it must relent the power unceasingly and where the receiver must not use it to the detriment of the society. Freedom of speech holds the same idea, and in the light of recent chaos on the emergence of so called ‘fake news’, audiences have to be aware that all news may not be true and that all media platforms should be used with a sense of skepticism.
Although fake news has been around for many years, the subject became controversial only towards the end of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, where the success in Donald Trump’s campaign was suspected of being supported by the Russian propaganda. Prior to this, however, pushes to stop fake news and online rumors were widely regarded as a form of censorship—including by groups and news outlets that are now calling for more regulation of online content to stop its flow. Fake news these days take the form of click-bait articles posted by news mills for profit, and it’s mainly these stories that are cited by news outlets touting the fake-news narrative – and for most cases the counterintuitive headlines do just enough to grab the attention of the web surfers. However, the main controversy surrounding the fake news is not about the presence of unreliable sources itself, but the fact that published ‘fake news’ lists bundle together fake news cites with right-leaning media sources. PropOrNot, an organization cited by the Washington Post on Nov. 24, labeled over 200 publishers, including Drudge Report, Zero Hedge, and Infowars, as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season.” To some degree, it may appear as though the right-wing advocates may be on the losing end of this controversy, falling out on the credibility aspect. However, the converse has been the case for the past few years. In Europe, fears about laws targeting fake news arise from the fact that right-wing parties have seen a surge in support due to growing unease over the rapid influx of Islamic refugees and immigrants from poorer EU countries. As such, right wing parties can exploit the ‘fake news’ to maneuver desired social outcomes.
Another pressing concern on the ‘fake news’ is the unnecessary competition that is created for media outlets that stay true to the exemplary principles. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, believes fears about fake news are being pushed mainly by news outlets that are trying to undermine alternative news outlets. “They no longer have a monopoly on news,” he said, noting that in the past it was generally the case that if The New York Times and Washington Post carried the same narrative on an issue, that narrative would become the accepted mainstream opinion. Recently however, the mainstream media outlets are resorting to delegitimize means to level the playing field, and hence is the reason why social media sites and online message boards - with Facebook being among the main targets – are being drenched with heavy load of articles that are adorned with provocative headlines. With more and more governments demanding regulations, Mark Zuckerberg has made it easier for users to report articles as “hoaxes” and other changes are being expected to censor unreliable sources.
Some news are labelled as ‘fake’ merely because they are slightly biased or simply omit important counter arguments. Steven Mosher, however, states that the enforcement of websites to provide balance by reporting all news, is in itself paramount to censorship. He also added that the only solution lies in the hand of the readers, to be diverse in their choice of news sources. Predicated on the Article 19 of the U.N. Human Rights Council, “false news provisions ‘unduly limit the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression”. The U.N. council has upheld this even in cases of news that may cause public unrest, on grounds that “in all such cases, imprisonment as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights.”. It does not seem possible that provocative news articles can be eliminated from the internet. But citizens can be fostered in a new democratic environment to better react to and handle reports that may not even be true.