Concocted as a thoughtless jab at opposing press, the term “fake news” has become one of the most powerful political slogans of this year, in fact it was even rated 2017’s “word of the year” by dictionary publisher Collins. Despite finding its popularity as Trump’s infamous catch-phrase, the slogan has been given real power mostly by the neoliberal center. While Trump may have tried time and again to undermine the Washington Post or CNN, he has not been able to accomplish what Google, Twitter and Facebook are doing to combat “fake news” and foreign influence. In the united $tates the battle against censorship is rarely a fight against the state, but one against private companies which seek to promote their own neoliberal political interests.
So far, despite the democrat posturing, as though they were valiantly resisting a Russian puppet-state in Washington, the only real state measures taken against news media has been to withdraw RT’s credentials, and publicly sanction all other “dangerous” foreign media sources. This is not to defend the credibility of the openly far-right interests of RT, who routinely publish articles against the so-called refugee invasion of europe, but merely to burst the bubble of neoliberal “wolverines” proudly leading the resistance against the Russian occupation of amerika from the heights of its government. Yet even this represents only the tip of the iceberg for neoliberal censorship and bite-back against media it considers “dangerous” to its rule.
Much more disturbing has been the conduct of some of the largest information and technology companies, which have recently thrown in their hats to de-platform, ban and otherwise remove media which it considers to be fake news. Google has recently taken to deranking websites based on the quality of their content and their emulation of mainstream media methods of presentation, stating that such misinformation has the potential to create public discord and spoil genuine debate. So far they have targeted the usual suspects, Russia Today and Sputnik News, as well as many others, mostly far-right in nature, but setting a dangerous precedent that can easily be turned against left-wing, especially anti-imperialist, news sources.
Twitter has joined in on the festivities, along with Facebook, in targeting accounts and advertisements which they believe represent “foreign interests” attempting to influence the amerikan public. By this they are more or less referring to Russian accounts and media sources, but in the very broad definition they’ve given, this has allowed them to target all manner of political activists both left and right. Among those swept up in the account bans and suspensions on Twitter were dozens of black activists, again, targeted under the pretext of Russian meddling. Ironically, to the “progressive” democrats and neoliberals which are bravely resisting a Trumpian dictatorship, a tired old amerikan jingoism is flourishing. Who’d have thought?
Of course, Google would never derank a website like Buzzfeed, that does not employ real credentialed journalists, and whose coverage of “real” news is, to say the least, unrigorous. Case in point Buzzfeed recently published a pretend-piece where they played as real journalists investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. In it, they note that sums of money were transferred to Russian consulates and embassies in the united $tates with the memo “to finance the 2016 election” attached. However, as the article notes—waiting until paragraph seven to mention it—the memo did not mention which country’s election the money was for, and was in fact used for polling stations in the 2016 Duma elections, in which Russian nationals living in the united $tates are able to vote. This is a rather explicit example of “fake news” as described by Google, yet Buzzfeed has not been sanctioned for it.
After all, “fake news” means whatever its wielder wishes it to mean. It can be TeleSUR, Sputnik or CNN, depending on who is decrying it, and in that way it is a word without any consistent meaning, another thought-terminating liberal cliche. Despite this, it is being used very effectively to provide the justification for throttling political currents and discourse. While we do not respect “free speech” as an inalienable right, which must be protected for the sake of personal liberty, we do understand the danger in allowing our enemies to dictate what is “acceptable” in the realm of political discourse. We should not be blind to what is happening simply because it has not seriously impacted us as of now. As the nature of the “fake news” debate has shown, it can be turned this or that at will to target whoever they deem to be spreading disinformation.
For that reason, we should both oppose the current trends in neoliberal censorship as well as developing independent media which does not completely rely on vulnerable infrastructure. Of course we can never fully depart from the internet, as it has become an incredibly useful tool for organizing and propaganda, but our dependence on it will ultimately become a burden with the increasing pressure from the authorities. So long as we are engaged in propaganda, fundraising and organization on the web, we should not cede greater power to those who would seek to root us out.