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An avalanche of news hits us every day. It gets to the point that we barely have time to read beyond the headlines. Fast news is making things inhuman because it comes at a pace beyond the capacity of anyone to absorb.
Everyone complains about fake news. However, fast news creates the conditions for fake news. When news becomes just a blur, everything is reduced to insignificance. Only the short and sensational news items stand out. All this easily degenerates into exaggerations and distortions to make things even more dramatic. The fake news spiral is thus born.
As much as we like to blame the mass media for fake news, we might also point to ourselves. Frenzied lifestyles and unreasonable expectations have permeated our culture. Everything has to be available right away, instantly and effortlessly. Only two speeds, fast and faster, have become the norm.
The Breakdown of Institutions
Three things have helped create fast and fake news.
The first is the breakdown of intermediary institutions that usually moderate how we receive information. We naturally tend to prioritize how we receive our information according to those things closest to us.
Thus, news from the family does and should occupy our immediate concerns. Community events normally are next in importance since they impact life around the families.
Ordinary national or international events are distant from our daily lives and therefore of less priority. Of course, urgent and extraordinary news, like that of 9/11 or important elections, can and should change those priorities. However, the standard way of absorbing news corresponds to these institutions around us. This hierarchy of concerns has the effect of calming down the news.
That is why the breakdown of intermediary institutions like the family and community is so harmful. It leaves so many without points of reference. In fact, the only point of reference is the individual who becomes the sole mediator of the news being received. It pits the individual against the world, calling to mind Thomas Hobbes’ “war of every man against every man.”
Thus, each one of us feels flooded by the news of the whole world upon us. News becomes a mishmash of everything at the same time. The priorities are all mixed up, and the intermediary bodies no longer serve to moderate, validate and verify that which is received.
News quickly becomes fast and fake.
Everyone’s a News Source
A second factor in the creating of fast and fake news is the so-called democratization of news. Not only is each the sole mediator of news, but each becomes a news source. With the new technologies available, everyone can report on the news and publish it. There are now blogs, websites, self-publishing options, Facebook posts and tweets that crowd the field of news with an enormous volume of text that is hard to navigate.
Everyone has an opinion and the means to make it heard. However, opinions can also be more easily buried under the avalanche of stories out there. Not all opinions are equal. Some are just that—opinions. Thus, the means of verifying the facts becomes ever more challenging. Indeed, when everyone is a source, the quality of the news can be incredibly horrible.
While it must be admitted that new technology has broken the media’s monopoly on information, it has also led to the impoverishment of news. There is much less in-depth analysis or focus. Gone are the great journalists and news analysts recognized by all, since they cannot fit into a 15-second sound byte or accelerated news cycle. The sensational has undermined all that is profound or sublime.
There is so much noise that it is not easy to pay attention. Such conditions are perfect for creating fast and fake news.
News Without Restraint
The final factor is news without restraint. In the frenetic intemperance of showing everything instantly, anything now qualifies as news. Any source is valid. Any story can be now punctuated with tweets and live feeds. There are fewer standards of excellence and morality that are respected by a voracious public feeding on sensations.
In the name of a false and exaggerated transparency, so many of the restraints that moderated news have fallen by the wayside. Even the most shocking news items are allowed. Horrid ISIS executions find their way into the news stream together with earthquakes and Hollywood scandals. The news angles are full of impressions and feelings of those involved. Stories are crafted to appeal to the impulses of hurried readers by promising thrilling content.
When the moderating role of restraint is taken away, news easily becomes fast and fake.
Slowing Down the News
Many think the solution is to stop listening to the news since it can be a cause of much depression and stress. However, an informed citizenry has a crucial role to play in the course of events. We need to know what is happening but we also need to exercise control over how we receive our news.
News will slow down when we slow down. It will become less fake when we become less fast. We must be convinced that more news is not necessarily better news.
Personally, we need to diminish the volume of news we receive by resisting the temptation to click on every appealing headline. Our search for news should address the essentials of the stories and remove all the superfluous and nonsensical. We should read those commentators, analysts and media we trust and avoid those who can cloud and confuse us (which includes most of the major media).
If each of us personally slows down our news intake, we will have the means to survive in today’s fake news offensive. Otherwise, we will roll down the slippery slope. Fast news becomes fake news, which becomes fantasy news. Such degeneration threatens the nation.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.