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On fake news On fake news
by Joseph Gatt
2020-05-21 10:59:50
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How do newspapers come up with fake news in the first place? I'll discuss two things: fake facts, and fake facts slipped into opinion articles.

Fake facts

Let's keep this nice and simple. Here's an example I like to work with. There is an estimated population of 200 Jews living in Algeria, mostly expatriate businessmen and diplomats, who are the holders of French, British, American, Canadian, South African, Australian, German, Brazilian, Argentinean, Mexican, Moroccan, Tunisian and other passports. No Jews who are the holders of Algerian passports, except for myself, and Jean-Pierre Lledo (maybe a couple of other cases I don't know of).

fak001_400An Algerian newspaper published the following story (that I'm summarizing here). The newspaper claimed to have met a woman called “Hayet” who claims that there are “hundreds of thousands of Jews” living in all kinds of cities, including Boumerdès, Mila and Bousaada (which are semi-rural cities). “Hayet” claims that Jewish women “wear the hijab (Islamic veil)” and that they get marriage proposals from Muslims, and that they reject those to marry other Jews.

Three things possibly happened with this story (and with any other fake news story).

1- The journalist was misled by his source. In this case, the Algerian journalist quite possibly hit on an Algerian Muslim woman wearing the hijab (Islamic veil) and the woman claimed to the journalist that she was “Jewish” to avoid further embarrassment. The journalist knew a good story when he heard one, stopped hitting on the girl, and asked the girl for information about the Jewish community instead. The girl made up all kinds of facts, and the journalist wrote his story.

2- The journalist just makes stuff up. Less likely in this case, but could be that the journalist made the story up, either through hearsay that he collected here and there, or out of his own imagination.

3- The editorial board made the story up. Could be that the editorial team in this case speculated about the existence of a Jewish community in Algeria, and wrote the story. Perhaps the intention was to get any member of the Jewish community to come forward and share the truth.

4- There's a fourth case of fake news that happens sometimes: the intelligence community, government, army or press agency makes the story up for strategic purposes (could be security, economy or other intentions in mind). Not the case in this story, since only one newspaper reported the story.

In any case.

1- If you believe you are being misled by your source, it's always good to try to confirm the facts. Look the facts up online, call the involved parties and authorities, ask to meet people who were involved with the facts, the more evidence you have of the facts, the better.

2- Don't make stuff up! OK, here's a confession. In my 15 years of journalism, I have occasionally altered the facts. That was a form of “cutting corners” because I like to keep things simple and sometimes a story has too many variables and laying out all the variables can make the story boring and the reader tune out. So I like to take the gist of the story, and occasionally leave out important facts that would render the story “heavy” or “greasy” as we say in the jargon.

3- If you're the editorial board, don't try to come up with stories that are fake or sensational just to get more clicks, more website traffic or more subscriptions. People want to know the truth above all, and people want information that helps them go about their day to day lives. If you feed them “John Doe is a bloody racist” and “Jack Roe is a God damn Communist” stories day in and day out, people are not going to subscribe to your paper, and will read Sports Illustrated or Home and Garden magazine instead!

4- Yes, sometimes for security reasons, we have to manipulate people into behaving in certain ways! Don't blame the army for that!

Fake facts slipped into opinion articles

When you love something or someone, you can make stuff up about them. When you hate something or someone, you can alter the facts and make stuff up.

Common stuff that is made up:



-past behavior, affiliations and facts

-level of danger of the person or product

-level of importance of the person or product

-reinventing the person or product completely.

Now I'll share some examples of how I've been smeared in each case:

-Statistics: my grades have been deflated in conversations, I've been accused of not speaking English and having low English grades, my working hours have been deflated, and some claim that I have “never written anything.”

-Quotes: some quotes have been attributed to me and I go like “what?” One of my favorites is that I have been told that I used to say that “men and women should never be in the same room.” I don't remember ever saying that, not once, yet some of my old acutance claim that I used to believe in that kind of stuff.

-Past behavior, affiliations and facts: one of my favorites is when my foster mother used to say “you were a mess in Korea. If you didn't come back to Algeria, I would have come pick you up!” This was in 2010. 2015, I'm getting tortured and hazed at a Korean concentration camp with daily death threats and knives shoved up my throat. I call the very same foster mother asking her to intervene, and she suggests I practice some yoga. And I was not a mess in Korea in 2009!

-Level of danger of the person and product: Some South Koreans used to believe that I was a North Korean asset in South Korea. Other South Koreans believed that I was going to “destroy” their business. I've had my fair share of scapegoating. The only threat and danger I used to pose was exposing other people's stupidity, namely that of those guys with 3 Ph.D.s who claimed to know everything about everything.

-Level of importance of the person: One of my favorite things some people say about me is that I'm really a “blogger” and that “anyone can do what Yossi does.”

-Reinventing the person or product completely: My ex-girlfriend of all people used to reinvent a person when she talked about me, and that person did not exist! First off, she used to tell everyone I was “having a rough time” and the only rough thing on my mind was her refusing to sit down and chat with me. And she used to tell people that the reason we were not getting married was because my parents “opposed the marriage” (I am an “orphan” and my foster parents could not care less!). The real reason we were not getting married was because she was hoping her doctor boyfriend would divorce so she could marry him!

Anyway, hope this gives you an idea on how fake news works. Let's keep the news real!

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