Fake News, Conspiracy Theories, and the Alternative Media
by Vaughn Treude
The recent Presidential election cycle has been the most interesting and contentious in my lifetime, and I’ve been around a while. When the dust cleared and the votes were counted, the mainstream outlets were shocked to discover that their nearly unanimous predictions had been wrong, and Hillary Clinton had lost the election. Pundits have credited Donald Trump’s win to his cunning (or reckless, depending on your viewpoint) use of social media. But it was the alternative media sites such as Breitbart and Alex Jones’ Infowars that clinched the deal, in my view.
My purpose in writing this post is not to support or oppose any political candidate, but to underscore the fact that the media landscape has changed forever. The Internet has fundamentally altered the dissemination of news, much as it has revolutionized publishing. That’s what makes it relevant to us as independent writers.
When the publishing industry realized their days of top-down control were over, they ceased blacklisting self-published authors and actively sought those who had made a splash on their own, such as Andy Weir, author of The Martian. The mainstream media, on the other hand, have not yet come to terms with the ongoing demise of the old system. In terms of Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief, they have moved from Denial (ignore the upstarts and maybe they’ll go away) to Anger. Consider the recent spate of articles in The Washington Post, which allege that not only are alternate sites propagating “fake news,” they are doing so with the covert support of America’s nemesis, Russia.
To those of us who have been following the alt media, this is a pretty absurd charge. Even if the Russians are supporting certain websites, who could blame them? America’s CIA has been secretly bribing and/or blackmailing mainstream journalists around the world for decades, as Udo Ulfkotte, a former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, recently revealed, and it hasn’t caused any anti-American backlash. I’m inclined to doubt the level or Russia’s financial support, however, considering the state of that country’s economy. For my part, I’ve written a couple of pro-Russian posts in the last few years and have yet to receive my check from Vladimir Putin.
As for “fake news,” it stands to reason that many, if not the vast majority, of independent news sites will be predominantly crap and eventually fall by the wayside. Yet among this mass of rumor and innuendo, there are gems such as Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept. Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer, is a staunch progressive. His important and well-sourced exposés are the sort the corporate media have long buried due to conflicts with their own financial interests.
Likewise, a huge proportion of self-published books are poorly written; I sampled a number of these when I first bought my Kindle. The well-known deficiencies of the newcomers don’t mean that I endorse the mainstream media any more than I support the traditional publishing industry. The former uncritically repeated the US government’s propaganda that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” while the latter has published embarrassments such as E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.
The upshot of this shakeup in the media world is further encouragement for those of us who’ve chosen the path of independent authorship. The global economy is decentralizing, the powers that be are crumbling, and the process will continue.
Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out his works at vaughntreude.com.