“Fake News” and the Labour Movement

Section: 
Letter

There is a possibility that “fake news” may have been a consideration in the recent American election outcome and with its proliferation in many facets of life, “fake news” is currently the subject of talk shows, pundits, etc. There is clear evidence that for some, fake news may pass for factual news but despite appearances it has no semblance to fact-based journalism or source verified news.

Through trained journalists carrying out hardnosed journalism, legitimate news reporting and analysis will arrive at conclusions, or at least educated opinions. Hard news and reporting is not designed to please everyone, but there is research, debate and if proven, legitimate publication. People may disagree with resulting opinions and/or outcomes that are reached, but by and large the effort is honest and unmolested, unlike the news reported by the fake news purveyors who exaggerate, misinform, and use racism, hate, intolerance, wedge issues and/or corporate dollars to interfere with editorial boards. Wedge issues are a cornerstone of fake news as it demands that readers be drawn into discussions that are, by design, put in place to distract people from the issues that need attention. Intrinsic to the standard for legitimate news is accountability. Before fake news, if a media or journalistic source intentionally set out to mislead there were consequences, such accountability did not necessarily have substantial weight, but could range from subscriber issues to legal action against the source.

There exists a vast quantity of media personalities and social media users intentionally providing and/or propagating misleading reports and lies. This may also be multiplied by corporate dollars pressuring their lapdog media outlets and by extension their too often repugnant and regressive on air personalities. Up to this point, unfortunately, there seems to be no accountability for those delivering fake news.

Some fake news has a very long shelf life as it is very well reported. An example of the immediate or obvious issues with fake news is that of American President Barack Obama, despite there not being any verifiable information or conclusive evidence, the birther movement in America sustained the question of his birthplace for several years. Additionally, a subscriber or reader of fake news in America took it upon himself to attempt an armed rescue of children who he believed were being held hostage.

Fake news is partially sustained by pandering to a portion of the population, who, because of their personal convictions wish to believe what is provided and by those who either choose to accept fake news without verifying its legitimacy or sadly for any number of reasons are incapable of determining its authenticity. Fake news owes much to the posting and reposting in the social media world and such actions flow out the same roots of verification and pandering.

Keeping fake news alive cannot be solely attributed to the left or the right of the social or political spectrum, but its damage cannot be overstated: Did fake news change the course of an election? It will be more appropriate for historians to debate and decide that. Let us be clear though, provocation is one of the pillars of fake news. There will always be topics that generate strong feelings, fake news is typically aimed at these susceptible topics, and the already noted example of the birther issue is one such item. Although fabricated, some people wanted to believe bad things about President Obama. Aided solely by endless shares and retweets the purveyors of fake news pushed this as far as possible.

Fake news is not limited to misleading information on a global scale, but does evolve into numerous smaller manifestations and will exist by sustaining itself by the same rules as fake news on a global issue, nonetheless it does remains damaging. Examining this more closely we can look at the damage done to the labour movement. The labour movement, by its very structure, is inclusive and works for the collective good. However, with a concerted campaign of disinformation about the labour movement that predates the social media amplification of fake news by decades, the damage done by the fake news of today is easily multiplied. The labour movement has been overtly attacked since the Mulroney, Reagan, and Thatcher triumvirate of economic horror. The attacks have undermined an entity that works for the good of all workers. This attack, both legislatively and in the media, has aided in the decrease in union membership and backlash towards unionized workers in all sectors. There is a direct relationship between the declining wealth of workers, the strength of the middle class and the decline in union membership. Those that have committed themselves to damaging the labour movement, or any progressive movement for that matter, have a tool that knows no bounds and exists with no known method of accountability. The damage that can be done to the labour movement or any progressive movement is all but limitless. Anytime that progressive movements are vulnerable the entire balance of liberal democracy teeters on the razor’s edge.

The labour movement is the last self-funded barrier between economic totalitarianism and workers maintaining their rights in the workplace and the damage done before fake news is a malignant cancer eating away at workers’ rights in the workplace. The possible damage that fake news could inflict is now almost incalculable.

There are numerous legitimate accusations against fake news and an undermining of workers’ rights is but one. Fake news is used by those wishing to see the labour movement weakened to the point of negligible influence, or perhaps destroyed completely. Along with working within the workplace on behalf of its members, the trade union movement is active in the legislative environment. To remain effective, the density or percentage of unionized workers needs to be enough to bring pressure to bear on employers and on legislators to improve workers’ rights and benefits. Fake news attempts to dress up legislation such as so called “right to work” as something noble in the workplace. In reality “right to work” is a corporate and legislative initiative designed to decrease union density and undermine the effectiveness of the labour movement. Similarly, fake news is being used to pit public sector union members against private sector union members. Fake news reports that public sector union members have somehow been awarded lucrative wages and benefits where private sector union members have been intentionally deprived of similar wages and benefits. Instead of recognizing that the benefits that any union member receives is the result of years of open and fair collective bargaining, ultimately advancing the standard of living and working conditions for every worker, the fake news end game is to pit union member against union member. Fake news is being used to suggest to union members and to the general public that public sector union members receiving these wages and benefits are the reason for government debt issues, when these debt issues are part of government inaction on the loss of manufacturing jobs and the continued habit of providing corporate tax breaks.

Left unchecked fake news can be used to undermine any entity. It may alter history and destroy institutions with little chance of recovery. The job ahead of us all, despite the fake news attack is to be responsible well-informed citizens, voters, union members and workers. Never forget that the gains of union members elevate the standard of living for all workers.

Dave Trumble, VP, Grey Bruce Labour Council