Debate on fake news in European Parliament (6th March)

Debate on fake news in European Parliament on the 6th March

In political terms, lying is so easy compared to other ways of gaining power. There is a dramatic political change for political engagement. It opens the floor for two interpretations. First, the optimistic one: Events such as the Brexit shock and the migration challenge lead to a new format of civic culture and a basic grassroots movement in a “wind of change”. Second, the pessimistic one would refer to the growing distrust towards representative democracy and party politics, and mark down a new end of history. “We live in an era of Post-Truth-Politics”, Estonian politician (MEP) and historian Tunne Kelam (who attended the event) has recently claimed. These warning statements are referring to the spread of “fake news” – not a term many people used a couple of years ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the Western order. A rather new debate requires new reflections about how to cope with freedom of expression on one hand, and how manipulation strategies undermine this freedom. Fake news has become part of our everyday vocabulary, as well a part of political instrumentalisation strategies with a goal of undermining public trust in institutional news media as central parts of democratic political systems.

I made the following contribution: “The rise of fake news is linked with another phenomenon: A growing number of nations around the world have witnessed the rise of influential populist movements. In recent years, populist ideas are spreading across widely dispersed countries around the globe. The rise of anti-establishment parties mirrors the changing European electorate, which is more volatile, more sceptical of the political elites and, in some respects, frustrated by “big politics”. The Europe-wide success of new parties is, in many ways, astonishing considering their lack of resources, members and, to some extent, traditions. The latter factor has become less important because of anti-elitist tendencies in the media, the public’s attraction to new and unconventional parties, and the logic of the media systems themselves (e.g. the popularity of talk shows and short slogans, and the arrival of social media). Furthermore, these new parties sometimes have creative financing tools, or entrepreneurs as sponsors. What is different is that a majority of us now get news from social media sites, with trusted social connections replacing media such as newspapers as the prime news source.”