I had already decided it was time to talk about “fake news” when dictionary publishers Collins yesterday proclaimed the term as their word of the year, just as Oxford Dictionaries had done with “post-truth” last year. The use of “fake news” had, according to Collins, increased by 365 per cent in comparison to last year, confirming not only an increased awareness among the general public awareness of what it I, and how to identify it, but of an increasing boldness in using the term – we all know who is responsible for that, but I will return to that later.
I am pretty sure anyone encounters a website named “Leigh Spence Is Dancing with the Gatekeepers” knows what they are to expect. Each article be presented from the point of view of a particular person, i.e. me, and that person may have a particular axe to grind. At the same time, I expect that you know that without me telling you because, from Wikipedia to Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat, anyone can say whatever they want online, and the more respectable you appear, the more seriously you will be taken. Your CV may be watertight, but the interview is what gets you the job – plus, using your own .com address, and pink and white text on an International Klein Blue background also helps. I know I am writing in a more anecdotal style than an academic one, and sources are not listed like an essay, but if I know that someone wants to look something up, either because they are interested, or want to check it is correct, my work is done.
However, the Collins dictionary definition of the noun “fake news” will be: “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” Interestingly, when you go to collinsdictionary.com, and enter the word “false,” the first example of the adjective “false” is: “It was quite clear the President was being given false information by those around him.” Oh well – there is no mention about separate objective and subjective uses of the word “false,” or of “fake news,” because to do so would be to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.
It is no surprise that Donald Trump could take credit for popularising the term “fake news” – in an interview with Mike Huckabee, he said, “the media is really, the word, one of the greatest of all [the] terms I’ve come up with, is ‘fake’ … I guess other people have used it perhaps over the years, but I’ve never noticed it.” For someone who is also quoted as saying, “I am more humble than you could ever understand,” claiming to have invented words that have existed for decades is about as hubristic as you can get.
The accumulated use of “fake news,” already used to describe “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Onion,” has grown because of Trump, but his use of it – “the Fake News is at it again” – is different from the Collins definition, because it is the same as his abbreviation “MSM” (mainstream media), in that it is anything he personally doesn’t like. Donald Trump uses “fake news” like the main character of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” Holden Caulfield, calls everyone “goddam phoneys.” That we can now argue the meanings of words is par for the course these days, and that we can do it with “fake news” is even worse.