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Álvaro Nieto – Biased neutrals

Access Álvaro Nieto‘s blog

The concept of ‘fake news’, which has become so fashionable in recent times, contains a terrible message in its own name. Its literal translation, fake news, presupposes that there is information that is published that is not true. And, since it is the media that are responsible for preparing the news, the name ‘fake news’ assumes that there are newspapers, radios or televisions that spread falsehoods. Therefore, using that phrase we are already suggesting that there are those who make up the news. Hence, many politicians have embraced those two fetish words to discredit information that was not conducive to them, and this is true for both Donald Trump and Pablo Iglesias. They try to discredit the work of the media, and that of the ‘fake news’ suits them like a glove.

But in reality, the media rarely spread fake news, or at least not deliberately. Of course, there are better media than others, since not all work with the same professionalism, but 100% are subject to judicial control. If someone feels harmed by information or considers that a news is false, he can always go to court to demand rectification and even compensation. This control work is done on a daily basis and, nevertheless, very few times that a medium is convicted of lying.

Therefore, when we speak of ‘fake news’ rather than false news, we should speak of hoaxes, since they are not manufactured by the media, but by clandestine websites, counter-propaganda agencies or, in many cases, idle citizens who decide to write a WhatsApp making up any bullshit. And this phenomenon, that of hoaxes, is not exactly something new, no matter how much they want us to believe otherwise. It is true that social networks facilitate its spread, but hoaxes launched by unscrupulous people have always been. If not, remember that mess with Ricky Martin on Antena-3 caused by a call from an unscrupulous person to a radio program when he claimed to have seen on television what never happened.

Despite this, there are politicians who try to convince us that democracy is in danger due to ‘fake news’, and they have even set up advisory bodies to fight against so-called ‘disinformation’, putting a lot of money on the table. The European Union, for example, is particularly sensitive to this issue. And, in the heat of all this, so-called ‘fact-checking’ companies have proliferated.

In general, these companies are dedicated to debunking anonymous hoaxes spread on social networks. «It is not true that drinking bleach protects against covid», they have come to headline on occasion. It is a somewhat curious way of protecting ourselves from hoaxes: often denying them give them more publicity than they would have if no one paid attention to them. Something that would have been limited to a few citizens suddenly becomes a national problem.

That said, there is no doubt that this work of dismantling hoaxes is commendable, as it is also when they start to verify what is true in the data contained in the speech of a politician or in a parliamentary debate.

But, thanks to that work, the verification companies have ended up being hired by social networks to judge the content that appears on their platforms, in such a way that they have also ended up examining what the media publishes, and even arrogate the right to brand as a «hoax» some of your information. In other words, these verifiers have become authentic courts and determine in real time whether what a journalist says is true or a lie. And the problem is that these companies generally have fewer staff and resources than a media outlet, apart from the fact that they also screw up and, of course, have their own ideological biases and shareholder interests.

The hoax of ‘ABC’

And so, for example, it turns out that the newspaper ABC found a few days ago that one of its stories about a new Aragonese law was described as a hoax. But it was completely true, to the point that the verifying company the next day published a «correction» admitting that its initial verdict had been based on a draft of the law, not on the text finally approved. That is, the hoax was propagated by the verifier when trying to amend the flat to ABC, but the thing was a mere «correction» the next day because there is no verifier to verify the verifier and, therefore, to remove the colors if you are wrong.

Despite the correction, the reputational damage to ABC and the journalist who published that information has already been done. Some politicians used the note in which the ABC news was described as a «hoax» to charge against that newspaper, because, of course, no one dared to doubt the verdict’s sacred verdict. Even the Aragón College of Journalists intervened to oppose the Madrid newspaper.

Does this make any sense? Should we let companies that come out of nowhere emerge as new tribunals of truth? Why are we so arbitrarily delegating a task that only corresponds to the Courts of Justice?

And to make matters worse, then there is the very curious selection system that these companies usually follow to choose the news and the media where to look for hoaxes: they will hardly see televisions such as La Sexta or newspapers such as Eldiario.es, media with which they collaborate, as the target of their criticism. often these verifiers.

Let’s look at a practical example. These days it has been written and said on several occasions, and in some cases by journalists of a certain predicament, that the coup leader Antonio Tejero was pardoned by the Government of Felipe González. That ‘information’ is completely false, because just the opposite happened, that the PSOE Executive rejected the request for pardon. However, some do not care about the truth in their unbridled eagerness to justify forgiveness for the leaders of the ‘procés’. It is about looking for precedents, even if they are a lie. But, curiously, at the time this article is finished writing no verifier has yet appeared denying the matter. Chance? Surely it is an inadvertent error and that this week they will get to it.


 

Álvaro Nieto 
Journalist

 

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