The Communication Book by Mikael Krogerus

(Martin Jones) #1

How to recognize fake news

The term ‘fake news’ has become ubiquitous in recent years. But what is
fake news? Basically it is an aggressive way to influence people. But, fake
or not, all news is influencing – something which the inventor of public
relations, Edward L. Bernays, took full advantage of. (Fun fact: Bernays
was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis.) His most
famous work, which he wrote in 1927, was originally entitled Propaganda,
but he later changed the name to Public Relations. Bernays wrote: ‘The
conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and
opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society ...
We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas
suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.’ It’s a pretty good
description of the world we live in, isn’t it? But how should we interpret
Bernays’s strangely euphoric-sounding text?
Like this: freedom of expression is a democratic right. When everyone
expresses their opinion, millions of opinions and interests collide, and
chaos ensues. So either you create order out of the chaos by implementing
restrictions (which would be a dictatorship) or you have to make your own
opinion as attractive as possible and market it as such. You can use all the
tricks of the trade to come out on top. You can manipulate a little, cheat a
little, exaggerate a little to make yourself more interesting. Ideas can be
presented as attractive or less attractive, and it is up to individuals to
decide whether they want to follow them. This means: PR and advertising
or even fake news cannot force us to do anything we don’t want.
If you want to analyse (fake) news, a good starting point is the light-
hearted model developed by the American sociologist Harold D. Lasswell
in 1948, which still works astonishingly well today: for example, to
separate fakes from facts. The formula is: ‘Who says what in which
channel to whom with what effect’:

· WHO?: by answering ‘who’ said it, we divert our attention to the sender.

Lasswell called this ‘control analysis’: who is talking? What is their
aim? Who are their allies?

· WHAT?: by looking at ‘what’ is being said, we give attention to the

actual message (the ‘content analysis’) – to identify the aim behind the
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