Regardless of what one may think about President Trump, the fact remains that he’s right about one thing: Fake news is a real phenomenon. No doubt he plays this to his advantage in an effort to discredit what may very well be credible allegations against him, but sensationalist journalists keep proving him right. In the process of reporting fake news, not only do they unjustly discredit their many responsible counterparts, and not only do they undermine the value of their profession, but they also sow the seeds of dangerous social unrest.
Last Tuesday, TVA reported that representatives from two mosques in the Côte-des-Neiges district of Montreal, made a formal request to the construction company conducting roadwork on their street, asking them to bar women workers from the site during Friday prayers. The report portrays this as being more of an insistence than a request, claiming that women were chased away (chassées) from the site, and claiming that they had already been penalized by missing work.
The initial report, which is now nowhere to be found, showed clips of the reporter questioning representatives of these mosques. Both men were visibly irate by the allegations made against them. The reporter claimed that the documented evidence of their request could be easily obtained, and that she would soon provide them with it. The interview clips were very short, leaving the representatives with insufficient time to mount any kind of defense, and they were cut at moments that would be very convenient to anyone who would intentionally seek to stir outrage among viewers.
The report was aired and it spread all over social media. As could be expected, the outrage was equally widespread. Whole groups began to mobilise; Friday protests were in the works; and politicians tried to score political points.
The provision of the alleged evidence by the reporter, however, never took place. It appears that it simply doesn’t exist. La Commission de la construction du Québec (The Quebec Construction Commission) wasted no time at conducting a full investigation. On Thursday it concluded that “there is absolutely no indication that the leaders or representatives of the mosques made requests concerning the presence of women on the worksite (my translation)”. TVA has since amended their report, and after having been denounced by other media outlets, they finally issued a formal apology.
It’s too little too late, however; the damage is done. While tumultuous Friday protests may have been averted, people’s hearts have nonetheless been contaminated with further suspicion and mistrust. Moreover, as traditional journalism struggles to retain trust and remain relevant, it appears to have struck yet another blow to its own credibility.
The reverberations of this story testify to the fact that, though it is in decline, traditional journalism remains a powerful force, and as every Spiderman fan knows, with great power comes great responsibility. The people behind this report, however, must have missed that part of the movie; their work was at the very height of journalistic irresponsibility. Not only did it display a flagrant ignorance of journalistic power, but it also demonstrated a complete disregard for the pursuit of truth, and a dangerous indifference to the fragile state of peaceful society.
Indeed, fake news is all too real an occurrence, and as in all things driven by deception and falsehood, it seeks only to destroy. It is difficult to be certain whether this is occurring at a more frequent rate than before, but there is certainly a general sentiment that it is. As traditional journalism navigates through the unsteady waters of the social media revolution, it has an important choice to make. It can fire all its guns in a vain attempt to maintain its dominance – and recklessly harm society in the process, or it can peacefully and creatively attempt to find new ways of fitting into to this new world.
The responsible choice is obvious, but what is not so obvious is that this is the choice that will in fact be made.