As everything we write, everything we say and every action we take go into record more and more in an almost Orwellian fashion, it is getting harder to claim plausible deniability. There are no more safe spots in public as every person carries a camera in their pocket and if you are a public figure, a wrong word can and will haunt you sooner or later. However, the positive and negative effects of the situation are a completely different subject than the one we will cover in today's Reader's Corner article.
Regardless of the situation outlined above though, the overabundance of information coupled with how it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction leads to some humorous moments. Late last week, a reporter from the Dutch TV program Nieuwsuur, which is aired by the country's public broadcasters, turned his microphone to Pete Hoekstra, the newly appointed ambassador of the United States to the Netherlands. The reporter Wouter Zwart asked him:
"Speaking of threats, at one point you mentioned in a debate that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands, and that cars and politicians are being set on fire in the Netherlands."
To that, Ambassador Hoekstra replied:
"I didn't say that. That is actually an incorrect statement. We would call it fake news."
This is all on camera, by the way, and not printed or compiled from hearsay. Nevertheless, the reporter, surprised by this flat-out denial, asks, "Is that true? Because it is what you said."
The ambassador is adamant, though, as he once again says, "No it is not what I said." Zwart does not relent, however, and instead shows the ambassador the clip on which he based his claim. The clip shows Ambassador Hoekstra saying: "The Islamic movement has now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos. Chaos in the Netherlands, there are cars being burnt, there are politicians that are being burnt [...] and yes there are no-go zones in the Netherlands."
After showing the ambassador the basis and evidence of his claim, Zwart said, "You called it fake news." As he was about to continue, however, the ambassador interjects:
"I didn't call that fake news. I didn't use the words today. I don't think I did."
Once again, all of this is on camera. It is a scene that you can write whole chapters about, yet does not require a single word.
Still a threat
We all accept that fake news is a serious and immediate problem we face on social media, while it also heavily affects the mainstream media because, more often than not, mainstream media organizations turn to social media for content. It is an acknowledged fact that everyone can oppose even if only by lip service.
This also led the phrase "fake news" to turn into a buzzword; a get out of jail free card that politicians and other public figures can use to dismiss unfavorable news about themselves or in this case, deny the past and shrug off responsibilities of their words and actions. It is not even necessarily a buzzword solely for public figures either. Political arguments between readers, friends, acquaintances now easily slap the label of fake news on pieces of information they do not like or dismiss news organizations that they do not feel align with their political views. It is the new shiny toy of those who debate publically and are unaware of the logical fallacies or rules of healthy arguments.
This is a process that is very familiar in a world where everything has an expiration date. Like fads, fashions and trends, the phrase "fake news" will eventually turn into a joke with no meaning behind it. If this life cycle were to happen because fake news were eradicated and a thing of the past that we would only see in documentaries about journalism, it would be all right. But I believe that those who hide behind the accusation or excuse of fake news in order to escape reality can also cause it to turn into a simple buzzword despite the dangers of false information and propaganda it can produce.