The Easter morning attack in Sri Lanka reminds us that, when it comes to terrorism, governments often want to reduce the amount of media attention attackers receive. This is why the Sri Lankan government initially withheld the names of the attackers who killed nearly 300 and injured many more. The desire to deny perpetrators publicity is also why New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden publicly refused to utter the name of the gunman who killed fifty people attending mosques in Christchurch. A similar impulse can be seen in US President Barack Obama’s attempt to downplay the threat from ISIS by calling them the “jayvee team.”
This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 9 February 2017.
States all around the world are seeking to restrict the proliferation of ‘fake news’ to insulate their populations against messages that may destabilise their societies. But is the state the best entity to combat fake news?
IN 2016, several populist politicians around the world gained power by drawing on the emotion and biases of their supporters. Many of these followers appear to have been swayed by fake news, not verifying the ‘facts’ that their leaders provide them. More worrying, the leaders themselves seem not to care about the veracity of what they are spreading. Fake news can present as websites that deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news, and often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.
Some commentators fear that this is leading to a new normal where extremely biased views become the mainstream, thanks to fake news. These extreme views can cause divisions in society, foment unrest, and in some cases, lay the foundations for violence, such as the fake news that a pizza restaurant was operating a child abuse ring.
Despite ongoing cooperation between Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the United States– mainstream rhetoric often implies Arctic stakeholders are teetering on the brink of conflict. To a great extent, this sentiment is reflected in mass media and political banter, inflaming the passions of audiences. This is true, not only in the U.S. but also elsewhere, evidenced in the mass media reporting of other Arctic nations and beyond.
Consider, for instance, the impact of headlines pronouncing a “New Cold War” or a “Rush for Riches,” headlines not uncommon in U.S. media. Some reactions may be visceral– insidiously implanting notions of fear, lust, or chaos into the very core of society. Similarly, political banter suggesting belligerent rivalries reminiscent of bygone years may well influence public opinion to the detriment of strengthened Arctic relations.