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"Post-truth" and fake news: the rise of populism and the attack on democracy

fake-news

In my last book, published in Arabic under the title "Post-Truth and Fake News: the rise of populism and the attack on democracy", I undertook a historical-political analysis of the phenomenon of disinformation and what Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's adviser, infamously called "alternative facts". In fact, it is an ideological critique of the notions that feed the populist nebula in general. Moreover, given that Orbàn's populism is different from that of Trump or Chávez or Bolsonaro, a geopolitical contextualisation of how the wave of "alternative facts" has conquered and continues to conquer minds in different political cultures was necessary. The work is a political critique of a socio-political phenomenon that is in danger of imposing itself and negatively affecting the exercise of democracy around the world.   

Fake news are inextricably linked to populism as they are one of its most formidable instruments. Populism is defined as any political idea or activity that serves to win the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want (Cambridge). But since they cannot be given everything they want, fake news are created to say what could have happened if the elite, parliament and political parties were not corrupt. Disinformation, attacks on elites, simple solutions ("if we abolish parliament, we can build schools and hospitals all over the country"), contempt for the democratic process and the exaltation of strong and authoritarian leaders are the pillars of the populist movement in India, Brazil, the United States, Venezuela, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Sri Lanka and Central Asia....

People love fake news and consume them endlessly because it is their deepest desires, dreams or fears that are simply but dramatically manifested in them. The fact that fake news are shared thousands of times gives them a semblance of reality; it is what I call the "temporal illusion", which consists of believing that the frequency in time gives veracity to the repeated element. The narrative part, the sharing, the response to a deep repressed feeling... all these elements make disinformation almost irrefutable, even "indeconstructible"

But fake news are not entirely lies; they mix "doses" of truth with non-truths; the appearance of truth hides the lie; the truth is a repellent, as in the English landscape painters of the 18th century: it serves to create a depth in which the lie is lodged. It is therefore difficult to understand or deconstruct fake news without understanding this rhetorical intertwining of truth and falsehood.
How to combat fake news? We must start by denouncing them. The Washington Post had set up a cell to track Donald Trump's lies, fake news and half-truths since his election. In the space of two years in the White House, he has produced more than ten thousand fake news stories, according to the Washington Post. CNN had hired an expert whose job was to decipher fake news from the media and politicians. In Morocco, we need an observatory that does just that. Unfortunately, in our country, journalists compete with influencers in creating fake content; the same goes for some professors and academics. Politicians, public figures and the private sector are often the target of media attacks, deliberate or spontaneous, based on fake news. It is the responsibility of the media and civil society to put in place tools to decipher and denounce fake news. The silence of the media and civil society is incomprehensible.  

Fake news are not only the weapon of the weakest, but they use them to criticise the power that "marginalises" them. The middle class, frustrated by the erosion of its purchasing power, also creates them. Opposition ideological forces, whether conservative or far left, use them to destabilise an incumbent government in the name of a martyred people or a nation victim of the collusion of elites with the capital and the Deep State. Journalists and influencers are recruited by groups or individuals to bring down a public figure. The creators of fake news hate rational public debate. They like to live hidden behind their smartphones. 

One must always ask oneself: is this true", "How can I confirm this information? Is the source reliable (an official news agency - except for the Algerian news agency, which has recently become a major source of fake news against Morocco -, a respected and professional newspaper, a government source, a respected think tank, an international agency, an honest and respectable journalist, etc.)? The fact that several people share a piece of information is no guarantee of its reliability. It is also necessary to denounce fake news and those who make it. Silence only perpetuates the damage caused by lies. Truth is an act of courage in these times, but democratic and open societies cannot be sustained on the basis of fake news and the actions of hidden forces.