From Useful Idiots to Useful Facts: What Is Behind the Fake News Debate?

Information Nightmare: Fake News, Manipulation and Post-Truth Politics in the Digital Age Cover

My first major academic publication is available now. It’s a book chapter written by me and Sarphan Uzunoğlu, titled “From Useful Idiots to Useful Facts: What Is Behind the Fake News Debate?”. It’s part of the book Information Nightmare: Fake News, Manipulation and Post-Truth Politics in the Digital Age, edited by Tirşe Erbaysal Filibeli.

Here’s the abstract of our chapter:

It is claimed by many liberal pundits and some scholars that Lenin used the term, useful idiot, referring to Western intellectuals who supported communist experiment, in the time the new Soviet State was still particularly vulnerable (Landes, 2013). However, there is no conclusive evidence that Lenin used this concept. Nevertheless, this did not preclude the use of the concept to define the function of different political actors in daily political debates. Like useful idiot, the terms post-truth and fake news, are often used by politicians, journalists and academics without questioning histories of these terms and their function in academic and political life. The word post-truth was defined by the Oxford Dictionary in 2016 as the word of the year. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of searches for the word fake news since presidential elections in 2016 according to Google Trends statistics. Regardless of the prevalence of these terms in the circles of journalists, politicians and intellectuals, Keyes (2004) as the first author to publish a book about the term stated that politicians, authors, journalists, scholars and intellectuals are the subjects who benefit from post-truth politics the most. Likewise, Žižek (2018) claimed that even big media organizations may establish a troubled relationship with the truth and provide a crooked representation of controversial cases such as the situation of Julian Assange. In another interview, Žižek stated that the main problem was that people wanted to believe in more controllable lies (RT, 2019). Taking Žižek’s and Keyes’ arguments into consideration, this article is going to provide the critique of contemporary uses of the term fake news; and focus on how fake news debate is politically manipulated.

From the back cover:

Today, we live in a post-truth era. Creating alternative realities, and making people believe fake realities become easier. Digital platforms tend to promote dramatic, sensational and emotional content that harms democracy. This book examines different aspects of the matter: rise of populist politics, impact of digital social platforms, engagement-oriented algorithms, spread of disinformation and counter-measures like fact-checking mechanism and developing digital media literacy skills.

“Journalists, academics and civil society groups are increasingly working together to help people confront the confusion caused by the post-truth realities of digital communications, which is no longer the stuff of propaganda from the state, but comes from all sides of the internet. In this information space every fact is challenged by an alternative fact, and all of these different versions of the truth look the same online.” – Aidan White

You can find more about the book and get it for yourself here.


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