Fake news has a long but unenviable history dating to antiquity. It has been a practice by states or governments that in an attempt to control people, manipulate narratives to suit their purpose. The fascinating thing is that the persons, organizations, and governments that peddle fake news or falsify history appear to succeed most of the time. What cannot be easily explained is why people get caught in the web of falsehood and run away from or object to sources of truth even when facts stand in front of them in flesh and in blood. Distortion of facts has always been there. Take the case of Jesus versus His accusers before Governor Pilate. When it became impossible to justify their position the accusers became rowdy and declared preference for Barabbas a rebel and murderer and demanded amnesty for him.
In the era of social media, the phenomenon has assumed different dimensions such that what is false or fake is now the truth, sometimes gospel. It is not uncommon to see people defending falsehood with a frightening passion bordering on verbal or physical violence. It is worse when such persons are confronted with what cannot be denied or wished away. They labour, they sweat, they strife to explain away the truth and to establish that it is the lie that is indeed the truth. It is the new normal.
Wikipedia (2014) makes an entry on the distortion of history which is instructive and is quoted extensively below:
“Altering history by teaching manipulated stories, facts, and data is a means of promoting specific ideologies and agendas. This can be achieved by creating events that did not happen, altering events that did happen, or omitting events altogether. Over time, knowledge of the truth will die with those who lived or witnessed it, and the alternate version will be universally accepted as true.” (wikis.evergreen.edu 2014).
One way of creating “an illusion of truth” is by repetition. Read from one of the infamous propagandists of all time, Joseph Goebbels of Nazi Germany: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” This is so real in today’s world particularly in the age of social media.
Antoon Baets (May 24, 2019) sees fake news as a crime against history. He holds that people become more, not less entrenched in their beliefs when challenged with incontrovertible evidence because of the theory of cognitive dissonance. Meanwhile, attempt to provide truth sometimes backfires as people object to effort to assail their positions while those that were not aware become informed thus swelling the ranks of the misinformed.
It reminds me of a Bible Class I attended at Omoku. The teacher was against Sunday as worship day insisting that Saturday is the ordained day. When I drew his attention to Exodus 12:16 and Leviticus 23:7 which declare both Saturday and Sunday as days for “holy convocation” for rest and worship, he openly chided me for taking a different position. He did not hide his anger.
It is imperative to attempt an understanding of why people – the well educated in particular fall victim of fake news. As indicated above one explanation is by use of the concept of cognitive dissonance. I came across this fascinating psychological theory in marketing. When confronted with an alternative if not opposing views or situations, an individual looks for a comfortable position by seeking more information. For example, if I buy a Samsung phone rather than a Nokia of equivalent cost, I am likely to seek affirmation of my action from friends, colleagues, family, and others. This theory, enunciated in 1957 by psychologist Leon Festinger is an important basis for the marketing activity of providing more information to buyers of products and services before and after purchasing.
In other spheres cognitive dissonance refers to the effort to establish internal psychological consistency so that the individual can function in the real world; it implies working to reduce psychological discomfort. One approach is via selective attention in communication in which the individual selects what to read or listen to. It is so real: if you hate Barack Obama and there is a story with a bold headline announcing that an Obama policy is useful to you today, the ‘natural thing’ is to skip that story even if you are a beneficiary of that policy at the moment. If you love Donald Trump any headline that puts him in a bad light must be skipped; when it is comfortable news, you can skip dinner to listen to it or read it.
A weak point in the psychological theory is the de-emphasis on the effort to seek alternative or new information which is key in marketing management. In politics, religion, and social life what is common is a determined effort to keep away new information that is the truth or closer to it. The reason is that such activity increases rather than reduces dissonance. In some instances, people feel they will lose face if they change a position that they have a deep attachment to. Such would increase rather than reduce dissonance. A rational person is a hedonist by nature – run away from pain and pursue pleasure. Thus if new information – the truth – has the capacity to increase pain, it is probably better to hold onto untruth in particular if it is what the white man describes as a white (or harmless) lie.
On a general note, misinformation is a fact of daily existence. The best approach should be that on the first encounter with a story all readers should be operators in the philosophical school of scepticism (I always say read every story with a bucketful of salt). Before internalizing a story it is best to seek for more information. This implies actively searching for new perspectives including ‘radical’ views. Never allow fake news to take a secure seat in your consciousness. It is difficult to uproot. Falsehood is like fear; once it takes root, pulling out is very difficult and sometimes impossible. Propagandists are aware of this, the reason they keep reinforcing with more falsehood that resembles the truth. Undoing falsehood is as difficult as changing the course of a stream. At Omoku in 2012 spaces including residences and schools that were flooded were said to be located on established waterways that man has sand filled. It is why the planets stay on their determined paths from millennium to millennium as eternal, unchangeable truths.
A New Wave:
Read backwards to the statement of the rationale for distortion of history posted by Wikipedia (2014). When the truth is the subject of tinkering, someone stands to gain something. Now even at Clan and village levels, people are distorting history for personal purposes. Will such distortion have a negative impact on future generations? That does not matter to near-sighted, greedy people who benefit from the distortion of history. Such people believe that each generation should live one day at a time. Human beings can so debase themselves that going to school becomes an exercise in wastefulness. It is why philosophers ask the question, “Who is an educated person?” Several people attend school but remain uneducated.
Let all of us search for means of respectable economic sustenance. Distortion of history for any reason is a crime against humanity. Even negative history such as the Holocaust can become a strength when accepted and efforts are made to avoid a repetition. Truth is indivisible; it is eternal; it is not subjective and relative; it is objective and absolute. Truth is like a priceless piece of diamond sandwiched in the crevices and covered with mud: one day it will be found, washed, and displayed. Its brilliance, brightness, and value remain high for all time.
It is wrong to shift ancient landmarks – that truism is found in every religion, creed, and culture. God hates it; man hates it and neither forgives transgressors.
I rest my case.