Fake news and geopolitical implications
News has always been an important source of political rivalry and competition. News has been used by politicians and people in power to articulate their ideas and agendas. Politicians have been at loggerheads with news outlets that are perceived to be biased. As politicians, journalists have their own political opinions despite any claim of objectivity. As much as politicians have used or misused news for their political advantage, newsmakers have equally insisted to direct the political trajectories in their respective countries.
What’s fake news?
Fake news is a term used to describe false information, deliberate misinformation, hoaxes and fake news frequently spread through social media. Fake news, in other words, is unreliable news that goes viral online, thereby diminishing the credibility of mainstream news networks, and dividing the general public on ideological and political lines. It was particularly popularized by the US President Donald Trump at the height of the 2016 elections.
Fake news in the US and beyond
News has recently become important particularly during the hard-fought American presidential election in 2016 between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. A post-election survey conducted by Allcott and Gentzkow (2017) for the month before the 2016 election found that people reported spending 66 min each day “reading, watching or listening to election news” – 38 percent was on social media. Both camps made claims and counterclaims. This political wrangling has continued into the Trump Administration and will dominate the presidential election between Trump, the Republican candidate and Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate. The debate between the two candidates has been described as chaotic by some analysts as they hurled accusations against each other. Biden described his opponent as a liar and Trump characterised Biden as dull without intelligence. According to Emerald Insight, fake news is a growing threat to democratic elections in the USA and other democracies by relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behavior. Social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter are conscious of the challenges posed by fake news toward US elections and have been taking concrete measures to mitigate its impact.
As the saying goes, when America sneezes, the world catches the flu. News or fake news in America will have important geopolitical implications around the world. American politics has a lot of bearing on world politics. World events from Beirut/Syria to Tripoli/Benghazi in Libya are directly or indirectly affected by American politics. The current normalisation between some Gulf states and Israel will definitely have echoes in the American news during the elections and after in terms of policies that will be implemented by either President Trump or Biden if elected as the next American President. In addition to the new signed peace deal between some Gulf countries and Israel, the Coronavirus pandemic is an important source of manipulation of news. If news is not handled carefully and professionally with integrity, particularly in social media, it might create social and political cleavages within society. In the American context, it might further the division between the Republicans and Democrats in terms of policy and law across the political aisle in both Houses- House of the Representatives and the Senate. Globally, dictators may use fake news as a tool to suppress their opponents, entrench impunity or curtail freedom of speech. It has raised an important question about social media and news in general with regards to social responsibility and freedom of speech. Though freedom is fundamental in any good governance, it must be used responsibly to ensure that social harmony is maintained. The next American Administration will impact the new dispensation in Sudan, as well as the political situation in Lebanon and the Israeli-Arab relations.