One of the greatest takeaways of election 2016 is that mainstream, corporate news no longer cares about maintaining the appearance of objectivity, and that the internet has made it possible to counter the top-down state driven narrative with genuine, alternative journalism. This of course challenges the king-making abilities of the corporate media who were shocked when their preferred candidate lost.
“Hillary Clinton was the choice of nearly every American newspaper editorial board. It didn’t matter.” ~The Los Angeles Times
Just a week after the election, Google, Facebook, Twitter and other internet giants are now declaring a war on so-called fake news sites, trumpeting the idea that unregulated information is confusing and misleading the public and interfering with our ability to make sound decisions.
The sub-text here is that the public can not be trusted, and therefore information in the public domain must be controlled and regulated. But by whom, exactly?
Already several lists of websites are being widely circulated around the internet and heralded as go-to places to instantly determine the credibility of an internet publisher. There are a number of alarming problems with this, especially for a nation that supposedly values freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Several of these lists taxonomize websites under multiple categories, which are only tangentially related, yet grouped under the all encompassing banner of ‘fake’ news.
But, what is the difference, for instance, between fake news and misleading news? And, is there a material difference between misleading news and ‘clickbaity’ news, or is it just about wording of the article title? Also, what is the difference between a fake news site and a hoax site? And, where does editorial news fit into this spectrum, and if the term propaganda is being used, does it now apply to editorializing in general?
The most important concern, though, is who decides what fake news is?
The Zimdars Hit List
The most widely circulated list right now was created and is maintained by Melissa ‘Mish’ Zimdars, a professor and researcher at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts.
“Bio: I am an assistant professor of communication & media, and this list started as a resource for my students, who are learning about journalism/social media/media literacy.” ~Melissa Zimdars
The Zimdars list of news site you should avoid is located here. It breaks down some 100+ websites with different ratings under the broad introductory headline, “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources.” There are zero examples given for any of these sites explaining why they fall under the heading of fake news, or why their content is to be considered questionable, just a link to their homepage. In other words, these sites are fake news sites because Melissa Zimdars says they are.
When I first saw this list, I was actually not surprised to find that my site, www.WakingTimes.com, was on this list, given our easy to spot anti-status quo perspectives, although it was intriguing to me that my site was misnamed Walking Times, which I took as a sign of the author’s carelessness in creating this list.
Waking Times has a five-year history as an internet blog and content publisher, with almost 7000 original, guest authored and aggregated articles which express the personal interests, biases and world views of the editor, myself, Dylan Charles. This is perfectly legal and acceptable in a free society. I contacted Ms. Zimdars and demanded that she remove our site from the list, and although I have not heard back from her personally, to her credit, our site was removed from the list within half an hour of my email.
For background on her biases, Ms. Zimdars has publicly responded to the question of what news sites trusts and visits:
“Some people are asking which news sources I trust, and all I can say is that I read/watch/listen very widely, from mainstream, corporate owned sources (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes) as well as The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and various local and alternative sources with different political perspectives, some of which are included on this list.” ~Melissa Zimdars
Without question, many of these mainstream sites are guilty of publishing false, biased, clickbaity, and propagandistic news, especially so in this election season, so it is clear that an agenda is in play here…