Frontlines: Know Your Fake News

You’ve heard Donald Trump trot out the line, as if he had invented the term – where in fact the new US President has benefitted enormously from what is a dangerous perversion of the media process. Kyle Mulholland profiles some of the bigots who have been stoking old prejudices…

Over the past decade, the internet has redefined how we consume media. The nature of social media, click-based advertising, and the need to grab the attention of people who seem to have a decreasingly short attention span has meant that the most lurid, shocking, attention-grabbing stories are the ones that are most likely to attract an audience.

This shift towards what is essentially a new, intense kind of tabloidisation has led to a flood of inflammatory, eye-catching stories that are, at least in the minds of their creators, precision-engineered to grab the capricious attention of the internet audience. The effect? Clickbait was born and facts became optional.

Misleading headlines and fabricated stories have, rather sadly, proven to be a great way to generate page impressions. So too has that old tabloid staple of pandering to prejudice and flirting with moral outrage.

Online, however, unscrupulous operators can get far more scientific about it, analysing the words that get the biggest reaction and using algorithms to manipulate search engines to drive black propaganda to the top of the rankings. And with the ability to track everything that an individual who has bought into Facebook, Google apps and so on does both online and off, the targeting is also becoming far more sophisticated – and horribly insidious and invasive.

The more unscrupulous and amoral you are, the better it works for you. Massive profits, it seems, can be made off the back of stoking prejudices. Even worse, ideas that we might have thought had been consigned to the dust-bin of history are making a comeback via Google – notably anti-Semitism, holocaust denial and a campaign to depict Hitler as a great, and greatly misunderstood leader.

So who are the sinister operators, who are happy to twist the truth and if necessary turn its on its very head? Who are the men (and it is usually men) behind the growing phenomenon of fake news?

Well, here are three names to watch out for.

Alex Jones

Alex Jones is a professional conspiracy theorist. For over two decades he has waged a personal war against his sworn enemy the ‘Globalists’ – a group that, through his distorted prism, encompasses everyone from the Chinese government to US Democratic Party politicians. Jones claims that the Globalists use a rigged media, intimidation, and chemicals in the water supply to keep the populace docile; and his mission is to counter their propaganda with his site Infowars.

Jones is best known for his explosive rants, during which he screams that he’s ‘breaking the conditioning’. His diatribes echo the famous scene from the film Network, in which cable news journalist Howard Beale announces that he’s mad as hell and not going to take it any more. Much like Beale, Jones’s rants bring in an audience. His show is syndicated across 160 channels in America and his YouTube channel has over 2,000,000 subscribers. Jones has been involved in debates on mainstream channels, during which his favoured tactic is to indulge in foaming at the mouth rants that tend to dominate the shows through pure volume. Curiously his verbiage generally ends with him howling the name of his website over and over.

His Fake News

Alex Jones has been a major proponent of the ‘False flag attack’ conspiracy theory. A false flag attack is when a government adopts the guise of a foreign power or terrorist group and attacks its own people. The idea is that the fear and panic caused by a false flag attack will create an opportunity for the government to remove liberties in the name of security. Over the years Jones has claimed that atrocities from the Boston Bombing to the Sandy Hook massacre were false flag attacks intended to scare the population into accepting gun control and a police state. He attempts to back these claims with photographs of people who bear a passing resemblance to the victims, claiming that they’re actors; he highlights allegedly codified messages in the media alluding to the staging of these false flag attacks, all conducted by a shadowy government.

Paul Joseph Watson

Paul Joseph Watson is an associate of Jones’s at Infowars. Based in a flat in Battersea, London, his YouTube channel has over 750,000 subscribers. Watson is a less imposing figure than Jones: Jones’ glowers from behind his desk stocky and solid like a silverback gorilla; Watson is far slighter. He makes many of his videos in front of a world map, standing too close to, and ranting directly into, the camera. He appeals to a different audience: where Jones is a bombastic rabble rouser, Watson is a more pedantic vlogger who targets less grandiose topics like immigration and social justice.

Watson has repeatedly claimed that ‘Conservatism is the new counter culture’, ignoring the fact that conservatism by definition seeks to maintain the status quo. He posted an open invitation that he would send a journalist to Malmo in Sweden, confident that the chaos inflicted by the rampant immigration would scare away liberal journalists. Unfortunately for him dozens of writers (me included) volunteered to brave the dangers of a pleasant middle-sized European city.

His Fake News

Watson insists that Sweden is a failed state. Thanks to bleeding heart liberals, the nuclear family has been undermined, free speech has been revoked, and the borders have been thrown open, letting certain ‘undesirables’ in. Watson claims that muslim immigration has undermined Swedish society and sent the country spinning into a downward spiral so terrible that Somali refugees have returned to their homeland because Sweden has become more dangerous. Like many other fake news-spreaders, Watson tends to source his info from other sensationalist right-wing sites or uncorroborated sources and rumours.

Official statistics from the Swedish government show that violent crime in Sweden has dropped significantly over the past 20 years.

Gavin McInnes

The self-styled ‘Godfather of Hipsterdom’, McInnes is one of the founders of VICE Media. However, McInnes turned conservative and in 2005 parted ways with the publication he helped to build. He is also the founder of the ‘Proud Boys’, an anti-pc, anti-”racial guilt” hyper-conservative men’s rights movement. He is associated with The Rebel Media, and formerly Fox News. McInnes is essentially a shock jock: he is brash, confident, and allegedly ‘stylish’. His uber-masculine schtick has more in common with talk show hosts like Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert than with conservative journalists. McInnes is hostile to feminism, social justice campaigns and trans rights.

His Fake News

In a piece for the website Thought Catalogue entitled ‘Everyone is Transphobic’, McInnes claims that transgender people are mentally ill homosexuals. This flies in the face of the fact that modern psychology doesn’t define transgenderism as a mental illness. Rather, the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5) redefined ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ as ‘Gender Dysphoria’. In this definition, being trans is no longer considered a mental disorder, but the anxiety and depression from struggling with your trans identity may be. Try telling that to a fool like McInnes though.

 

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