By Raymond Viger
This editorial resembles a humor column. Excuse this twisting of journalistic rigor, but my shrink always told me that it’s sometimes better to think outside the box. By following standards too closely, you can lose your identity and your authenticity.
Recently, fake news has become a hot topic of debate. We’re referring to false news items explicitly circulated to manipulate or fool the public.
It’s easy to say that the Internet and social networks like Facebook created this problem. And yet, as far back as 1810 article 419 of the French penal code regulated speculators who, by “false facts or misrepresentations seeking to fool the public… lead to higher or lower prices of goods…”
Still in France, a law passed on July 27, 1849 on freedom of the press used the term “fake news” (“nouvelles fausses”). The law was intended to “punish the publication or reproduction made in bad faith of fake news that disturbs the public peace.” And disinformation has long proven to be a powerful military weapon.
Fake news was originally an act of economic or political vandalism. Social media has changed the game so that nowadays anyone and everyone can launch a campaign based on falsehoods that provokes comments and reactions. Not to mention all the naïve people who pass along such information without realizing that they’re spreading lies.
I have a lot of trouble with those who use freedom of expression as a reason to justify this world of untruths. The intention to deny and to misinform can’t be made a part of this freedom. From the moment that I consciously launch a false idea its use becomes false, and that’s reprehensible. It’s a form of anti-social behavior. It’s not an individual that’s being defamed, it’s society as a whole.
Since defamation, libel, slander and the use of lies are all illegal, with potential jail time for their perpetrators, the same should be true for fake news.
As well, lies are used to great effect on the economic front. On the first page of many internet platforms you’ll see some horrible lies announcing the imprisonment of a star, or the illegal use of a celebrity’s face to advertise all sorts of products. These ads use fake news to make money.
Google claims that they’re working as fast as they can to eliminate access to these swindles. Facebook drags its heels, leaving the way open for fake news and illicit commercial activities. The businesses involved in these activities as well as the platform itself should be penalized for these social crimes.
It’s a form of violence against internet users. And all forms of violence should be denounced and banned. At the beginning of the decade of the 2020s, it’s not just coronavirus that’s become pandemic. It’s fake ads, too.
Facebook allows us to denounce an ad and have it taken off our personal page. I thought that with a certain number of complaints we could address the problem. That’s why I make it a point of honor to get these fake ads withdrawn whenever I see one. And I have to do this a few times a day. At first, I was pleased with this cleaning up process I’ve started on my Facebook page. But I was extremely disappointed to note that this was only a temporary mirage. Because the same pages I’d got withdrawn from my Facebook page turned up again to haunt me the very next day!
How can these major platforms close their eyes and do nothing to get rid of these fallacious practices? How can these platforms be complicit in these publications, and not be held responsible? Since they sell the ads, can’t these platforms find who’s sponsoring them, and who is harvesting the fruits of their ill-gotten gains?
Meanwhile, artists and other people in the public eye invest a lot of effort into fighting these practices, which often usurp their identities. How do they have enough time left over to do the work of creating?