Fake news is a term that’s been thrown around a lot lately, but it’s not clear what “fake” news is. Obviously fake news includes a lie, but in order to be effective fake news it has to include a lie that most people want to or already believe. Effective forms of fake news are also not really news and really look a lot more like gossip of a “he said, she said” variety. In a recent case of fake news, there was a fake coupon circulated for Starbucks that offered a free coffee to black folks as “reparations” for the recent arrest of two young black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks. This is an extremely effective piece of propaganda and fake news, because a) Starbucks doesn’t want to be seen as a company that stands in the way of social justice and b) who doesn’t want a free coffee if they were patronizing Starbucks anyway?
Here’s another example of fake news that is not quite as effective: the tape showing Donald Trump in a Russian hotel room with prostitutes. This was an essential piece of Christopher Steele’s dossier on Donald Trump’s collusion with the Russians, but it falls flat because everyone who voted for Donald Trump in November of 2016 knew he was a philanderer at best and a pervert at worst. Now, normally, this would dissuade most voters but recent trends in politics have been elevating perversion to a status symbol and because of this folks eventually stopped caring about the chastity of their political candidates.
To make effective fake news you need three things with an optional fourth element. The first element is a story that people want or to believe. In the Starbucks example I noted that Starbucks doesn’t want to be seen as a company that stands in the way of social justice, and that element is what makes the coupon for reparations effective. Social justice isn’t about justice at all, but about looking like you REALLY care about people who have been socially “wronged” by institutional prejudice and privilege, and that’s why nobody cares about the story of Donald Trump colluding with Russia. There are no status points to be gained by pointing out that Donald Trump is an adulterer or a philanderer. In fact, in our messed up culture, you end up handing more status to Donald Trump regardless of your original intention to tear him down. Please take notice of the fact that the story you write doesn’t have to be factual as long as you take care to make sure you have a willing audience of true believers
The second step to creating effective fake news is to find an audience that will tribally defend what you say and do. This is an essential piece of the fake news puzzle because you need to be willing and able to say things that will likely make very powerful people quite angry at you. This can lead to some very nasty consequences that will make your life very painful if you are not prepared for them. This is especially true in countries where there is no protection of the right to freedom of speech. Finally, you need to mold a tribal audience so that you can look like you’re a high status person. This high status will provide you the motivation necessary to achieve element number three.
Element number three is the most important, but often the one that’s overlooked by many a conservative pundit. The final and most crucial element to being a good producer of politically expedient fake news is the will to tell a lie that will cause harm to someone else. This harm may be, in the case of Starbucks, the collapse of an entire company that employs thousands of people worldwide. That will to harm another entity or person must come with it a resolve to never apologize or make up with the other person or entity. If you really commit to the harm you intend to inflict then you surely will achieve your goals in this regard, however you will be contributing to an increasingly polarized and tribal political discourse.