Cyprus Mail

2016: Why is fake news suddenly an issue?

Syrian government forces in the government-controlled area of Aleppo

Fake news: as old as apple pie. It can be traced back to at least the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine battleship off Havana harbour, erroneously and deliberately blamed on the Spanish.

What’s this have to do with affairs closer to home? The ongoing ‘fake news’ histrionics in the US, spreading to the EU, come on the eve of the crunch Cyprus talks in Geneva.

One can expect a slew of skewed reports from Switzerland once the talks get underway. We witnessed the same during 2003 and 2004 in the lead-up to the referendums. Slanted coverage will come from both the pro- and anti-solution media.

One local newspaper in particular – which shan’t be named – is notorious for misleading reporting, usually relating to the Cyprus problem. Their calling card: running front-page banner headlines about a major reveal or claim, which is not borne out at all in the body of the article.

But no one – let alone the government – should be able to decide what ‘fake news’ is. It’s a slippery slope to censorship and authoritarianism.

Is ‘fake news’ a problem? The more pertinent question would be: for whom is it a ‘problem’, who is making a big deal out of it and why?

Arguably, it is western corporate mainstream media (MSM) who are the chief purveyors of falsities. The laundry list is a long one.

Take the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin ‘incident’ (a fabrication) that precipitated the Vietnam War, Iraqi soldiers tossing babies out of incubators in Kuwait in 1990 (a hoax), Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (a lie), or Bashar al-Assad gassing civilians in Ghouta in 2013 (a tall tale).

The death toll running in the millions.

So when Hillary Clinton glumly warns that the proliferation of false news stories online can have “real world consequences”, she is absolutely correct – just not in the way she means it.

Hillary Clinton was right to highlight the dangers of fake news
Hillary Clinton was right to highlight the dangers of fake news

Bringing us up to the present day and the obscene lies over the liberation of Aleppo.

Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley has done a stellar job of dismantling the MSM’s twisted narrative. She has called out the BBC for their claim that the Syrian Arab Army were killing civilians – their own people – after liberating Aleppo.

Beeley asked how the ‘activists’ which the BBC cites as its sources could possibly broadcast via Skype from Aleppo, as she herself was in the same area at the same time, and there was no 3G connection, no Wi-Fi and no electricity.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has been feeding news about the Syrian war to many media outlets, claiming to have a wide network of contacts on the ground.

But Russia Today discovered the Observatory was a one-man operation, its director admitting that the last time he actually went to Syria was 15 years ago.

Meantime here the CyBC’s foreign news section has functioned as an echo chamber to western outlets, regurgitating jargon such as “the Assad regime” in referring to the legitimate government of Syria.

It’s fairly obvious the ‘fake news’ fandango in the US is a witch hunt, tinged with a new Red Scare for extra oomph.

There are many moving parts to this. The MSM, whose credibility has sunk to an all-time low – partly because of their atrocious track record, partly because of the alt-media – have seen their ratings take a nosedive.

The ‘Russians hacked our elections’ is the MSM’s Hail Mary after their resounding defeat in the meme wars of the US election cycle.

Yet on October 19, just weeks before the US elections, CNN was singing a different tune. It ran a story under the commanding headline: “No, the presidential election can’t be hacked.”

It doesn’t escape notice that the Russian hacking allegations resurfaced once the Democrats’ ballot recount bid flopped.

There isn’t a shred of evidence on how the Russians supposedly ‘hacked’ the elections. Did agent Yuri traipse into a polling station and filch the ballot boxes?

The story then changed to ‘the Russians influenced the elections through fake news’.

The claims are always from ‘anonymous sources’. The CIA has declined to officially comment, and won’t release their ‘information’ on Russian meddling – not even breadcrumbs – as it is classified. How convenient. But trust the CIA who, as an aside, in the mid-1970s admitted to infiltrating the mass media.

In 1967, the CIA wrote a dispatch (Document 1035-960, available online) which coined the term “conspiracy theories”. The term was to be deployed to discredit alternative JFK assassination theories and misgivings about the findings of the Warren Commission.

Irony of ironies, then, that the very agency which weaponised the term is now peddling the Russian conspiracy theory.

In late December, US President Barack Obama signed into law the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act. allowing the government to crack down against any media property it deems “propaganda” while also providing substantial amounts of money to fund an army of “local journalist” counterpropaganda.

Which is to say that 21st century America now boasts a Ministry of Truth. Chairman Mao would be proud.

Let’s be clear: any censorship is an attack on free speech. But chances are it will backfire as people turn to new platforms, moving away from the likes of Google, YouTube and Facebook. The same Google and Facebook who got seed money from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s own venture capital firm – graphically illustrating the feedback loop between government, tech giants and the MSM, who evidently don’t give a hoot about truth-telling or free speech.

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