What is ‘false news?’ Some might define the term as “almost everything out of Donald Trump’s mouth,” but the truth is that false new is nothing new. It has been a feature of the mass media since the concept of news was born. False news is simply something that did not happen. The purposes of false news range from making the perpetrator feel more powerful to creating a group of people who believe and may act upon the phony information.
The least effective false news is information that is totally incredible. “I had an alien’s baby” may lead this list. The most effective false news is remotely credible. “President Obama ordered wire-tapping of the Trump Tower” is an example of this. Such surveillance is barely possible and there is no doubt in the minds of the sane that it did not happen but…
The ultimate fake news is created by extending a real story, imagining ‘what if the original news had gone farther.’ Here is a good example.
I was in the security check line prior to boarding a flight to the U.S. from Toronto when the man in front of me turned around. It was Mickey Rooney, the pint-sized American actor who, at this time, was in his 70s. He mimicked swinging a golf club and smiled at my interest. A few moments later, we went through our security checks. I witnessed as Rooney was stopped and asked to empty his pockets. The checker discovered and confiscated a tiny penknife with a pearl handle. It was the kind of knife that many of us older folk have as a keepsake – good for little but letter opening with its 1.5 inch blade. Rooney had his knife seized and was lectured despite his protests that he had been traveling with the penknife for decades. He was angry and I didn’t blame him a bit but I also imagined the opportunity for ‘fake news.’
- Mickey Rooney plans airliner hijack?
- Armed Rooney busted at border
- Old actor brandishes blade at airport security
- Mickey Rooney threatens knife attack
There was just enough truth in the brief incident on which to base such false news. A National Inquirer reporter might get a Page 3 tale out of this while Brietbart would headline it for a whole news cycle. The story would have described how this 5-foot two inch, kinda goofy, extraordinarily talented and well-respected actor, well into his seventh decade, was trying to ‘smuggle’ a bladed weapon onto an international flight. It could have expanded by a tabloid writer into a plan by Rooney and his companion to break into the cockpit and overpower the pilots. Can you imagine? Maybe not but some people would buy into this bizarre picture. Think about it: the records of Border Security would back up the time and basic facts of the story.
False news; it doesn’t take much to generate it and not much for the gullible to buy it and that is what makes it so problematic.