Decoding the Context

Fake news suppresses the right of the public to critical pieces of information. But it is not the end disease. It is yet another symptom of a failed democratic experiment in the era of online media.

The fundamentals of journalism dictate that a report is a hoax if it does not supply the basic facts (what, who, where, when, how) and context (why) of the news story. No matter how complete the basic facts are, it is the context from which the news arises that always provides the bigger picture of the news itself. Suffice to say that the context is as critical as the entirety of the news because it affects the agenda and leaning of the public.

Consider a report on a street protest. The ever convenient context supplied by some corporate dominant media outfits presumes that any political activity which disrupts their view of an orderly world, say, a democratic protest along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) of Manila only troubles the already troublesome traffic in the city. Or, consider how a recent incident in a Manila resort was instantly linked to the terrorist attack against the people of Marawi City in Mindanao.

To twist and thus fake the news is easier than ever. Thanks to the promises of connectivity pronounced by the online-social media. The content and context of the news are now subjected to mere contest of popularity. In other words, there is a disregard of what is real and actual in exchange of what is popular in and through the media.

For Jodi Dean, a political theorist, fake news banks on popularity in the era of networked communications technologies. The popular shares, clicks and even retweets are masked as a form of participation behind the curtain of late capitalism. Fake news distorts the meaning and context of a word, for example, the notion of democratic participation. Way problematic, according to her, is that no one seems to have the time or patience to mass out the meanings of the propagated word because media technologies through its operators find its ways to fetishize this fantasy of participation.

Convenient reporting that relies heavily on predictable mainstream sources also contributes to the rise of fake news.

These mainstream sources are representative of the state. Through its capital and might, the state colludes with its sympathizers and trolls within and outside the media circle in order to reassure the public that every aspect of the political life is progressing. In cases where the media tolerates the twisted facts brought about by the state, the media becomes nothing but a co-conspirator in the discourse of fake news. But in cases where the media signals an antagonistic claim to the state, the latter is quick to respond with its repressive tactic of either conveniently branding the media as fake or summoning a media constitutive of its own breed.

In the US, for example, the proliferation of online fake news is largely attributed to the politics of hate and lunacy characterized by no less than its president, Trump. Through him and only him, the extremist right-wing media has once again taken so much confidence, and yes, influence in propagating twisted news on cyberspace. Trump’s very own populist rhetoric of hate against the media, almost exactly as that of Duterte’s word war with some corporate media in Manila, only fuels his supporters and fellow extremists alike in manufacturing a despotic power that targets anyone else but his kind.

Fake news is popularly intriguing in form and decontextualized in substance. Often than not, the move to twist and fake the news is orchestrated by media conspirators and right-wing groups and individuals supportive of the powers-that-be, that is, the state. Their aim is to preserve the hold of power, extend this power by mobilizing more trolls, amass public sympathy and naturalize what is obviously corrupting.

In its totality, fake news is driven by no less than the corporate and state greed. The deliberate will to propagate a depoliticized report coupled with the necessary economic and technological capital are the greatest assets of fake news. There is no easy way but to see this genre of propaganda as yet another attempt to distort the way the public interprets our already complicated political life.

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