Faking it: what we can learn from fabricated news

Written by Joe Hawke

The acceleration of the modern-day news agenda, facilitated by quick-to-use social platforms and instantaneous messaging applications, has been widely reported on. Indeed, websites that are specifically geared towards delivering news in real-time in a bitesize format have been a disruptive force for good for media consumption (although I’m sure many traditional newspaper editors would disagree).

Fake news on a laptop computer on a news website

It aligns with the modern-day consumer: impatient, time-poor and overwhelmed by a constantly-connected culture. This is especially true of millennials.

The consistent need to innovate and advance how consumers consume news has forced an era of ‘fake news’ with stories being made up, without any concerted effort to cover up the fact.

These stories range from the comical to the outright evil, but it seems that readers don’t really care so long as the story plays to their curiosity.

Clearly, you’d think that these sorts of stories would be immediately quashed, not least from a legal perspective. Especially, if they relate to a particular high profile individual or if there is any suggestion that it tarnishes a company’s reputation. But as you can see from many popular, news-led comedy panel shows, the ‘satire’ argument pretty much negates any threat of defamation from the affected individual or company.

Fake news is a growing threat of the digital age. In December, The Guardian wrote about the suggestion that the US election of Donald Trump was “influenced by a widespread belief in fake news among Trump supporters.” Fake news such as Democratic senators wanting to impose sharia law in Florida was repeated by Michael Flynn, Trump’s current National Security Advisor. The president then turned the tables during his pre-inauguration press conference, accusing some of the world’s most respected news age of hawking fake news, leading to an unprecedented response from the US press corps.

It’s clear that fake news can not only damage individuals and companies, but it can also change perceptions of people who will then voice their own opinions and protest based on fabricated stories. That’s the real threat.

There are many stories of fiction that grab you and spin your imagination off in different directions. What fake news tell us is that when a story isn’t true but the reader can find elements that make it believable, whether this is through the implied context or a subconscious memory of ‘something like this happening before’, the story runs and it runs hard.

That in essence is the art of storytelling’. If you know what makes a good story, and you know how to make it sell, then you have what you need to change hearts and minds.