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18 October 2017 11:07 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mike Abel

Manufacturers of ‘fake news’ rely on gullibility to spread their message

  • Mike Abel
    mikeabel.jpg
    Mike Abel

    Mike Abel is regarded as one of South Africa's leading marketing and advertising practitioners. He is the Founder & Chief Executive of M&Saatchi Abel and the M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in Africa. He is the former CEO of M&C Saatchi Group, Australia and before that, co-led the Ogilvy South Africa Group as COO and Group Managing Director, Cape Town. Mike has been awarded Advertising Leader in South Africa by both the Financial Mail and Finweek : and his company was named Best Agency in SA in 2015. Married to Sara and with 3 young sons, Mike is a regular speaker, writer and is passionate about politics and contemporary African art.

    His company is proudly also the home of the phenomenon called The Street Store, the open-source, pop-up clothing store for the homeless. It has gone on to become a global movement providing a free shopping experience for hundreds of thousands of homeless people around the world.

“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon, with lies and propaganda used to justify wars, royalty and the greatest atrocities of all time. If something seeks to divide, to foster hate or intolerance, there is usually a deliberate and evil agenda at play, and it is vital to dig further – despite your own fears and prejudices.

A lie told often enough becomes the truth”

– ascribed to Vladimir Lenin

Many today lament the growing scourge of fake news but truth be told, we have always lived in a time of “fake news”.

It's not something new, but dates back to the very beginning of “civilization” -- if ever there were an interpretive word. fake news is possibly at the very centre of all religions, where seemingly impossible stories lurch from being espoused as hard fact, to metaphor and symbolism in order to find steadier grounds for believability.

Fake news can't exist in isolation of gullibility and I can't argue, today, with anyone having a phone being able to portray themselves as an expert on a chosen subject, the chances of being misled, are dramatically heightened.

The plethora of messages anyone is bombarded with in a day happens against a backdrop of insta-news, where many time-starved people are turning to social media channels like Facebook and 140 characters of Twitter to form initial opinions.

So, as our friend Lenin is quoted above, I've also heard it ascribed to Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao, a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Joseph Goebbels also had a similar version.

Looking at all the greatest atrocities perpetrated over time, a great lie usually can be found as the catalyst.

There are many great religions which have been around for centuries or millennia like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and more. They surely can't all be right? In some cases, or dare I say possibly even all, millions or even billions, have got it hopelessly wrong.

But the genesis of each, assuming there is a “mistake”, would be based on creating deliberate fake news.

Human nature, unfortunate as it often can be, provides a bountiful bed of rose

petals (like the poster for “American Beauty”) upon which fake news and prejudice will land, in gentle comfort.

You see, sadly people (mankind – if ever their was a euphemism) frequently like to believe bad of others. Be it the falsely accused witches of Salem and countless other examples of supposed witchery which still today bizarrely costs innocent women their lives in parts of the world, to any of the ridiculous, farcical and evil lies concocted to suit an agenda.

We saw this this play out on a grand scale as recently as the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and how the poisonous rhetoric of “cockroaches” saw almost a million or more Tutsi's, murdered by their lifelong neighbours and friends, the Hutus. Goebbels, one of the great psychopaths of our time, understood well the power of fake news in creating a fertile environment for Hitler and the Nazis' industrialised extermination of the Jews. He is quoted as saying “think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”.

And isn't that something we all know so well today. But his warped genius required people to literally abandon all they knew to be true, with neighbour turning on neighbour (not without then looting their apartments): where your trusted friend, doctor, lawyer was over time, deliberately turned into a non-human monster perceptually.

The level of gullibility was so extraordinary that even the classification of a Jew, being parent or grandparent, would have seen Jesus gassed were he alive (due to Joseph and Mary) and Ishmael (due to Abraham) and yet few, many of the church included, conveniently saw the obvious lie for what it was. Then it was extended to blacks and gypsies (the Roma people). How gloriously inconvenient it must have been to witness Jessie Owens laying bare the great lie of racial inferiority at the Berlin Olympics.

This was the same psychology that allowed various Crusaders to mow down “natives” in droves for God’s glory.

Consider King Henry Vlll firing the pope and ordaining himself Defender of the Faith simply because he wanted to go through a few wives, to the concept of “royalty” in and of itself, where, when not limited to fairy tales, is a factually impossible and ludicrous notion.

Now I actually like the pomp and ceremony of the royals and their palaces etc, but to factually believe it can be true that someone is royal, is naturally, idiotic. And it is indeed the very pomp and ceremony that is experiential marketing to enhance its believability. That is why palaces and houses of worship are built on such a grand scale and often with such opulence that how could it possibly not be in the house of God or a king/queen.

All the Holy Wars of various religions were and still are, based on fake news.

Getting a gullible species to perpetrate horror, big or small, in the name of a giant lie – wrapped in honour and glory.

We have seen a British PR firm, Bell Pottinger, hired and briefed by Duduzane Zuma and the Guptas, play to our emotions and fears, very much like Goebbels described the press being his “keyboard”. We have seen how a lie told often enough becomes the lingua franca.

Just look at how the United Nations and then major global news channels all report on and condemn occurrences differently to suit their various sponsors and agendas.

Look at how the BBC reports as compared to the Telegraph, Fox versus CNN. It’s farcical.

How on a smaller, yet possibly even larger scale in terms of impact, fake profiles are created to sow hate, havoc and division once again in our beautiful land. The horrors of apartheid and third forces, should have taught us all better.

We even recently saw how a fake letter was generated by a disgruntled customer to damage a corporate on a fake charge of racism.

Today, we need to start by believing nothing that doesn't come from a trusted and verified objective source. I am eternally grateful for the independent media locally for creating a platform for the truth to be told.

We need far better investigative journalism, we need unbiased and secure reporters to give us balanced views and stories. We need to educate our friends, colleagues and the next generations to sift and filter through noise until they find the truth. We need far less gullibility.

My rule of thumb is if something I read seeks to divide, to foster hate or intolerance, there is a deliberate agenda at play. Any information/news that has a negative angle on a religious, racial, gender or sexual orientation basis is usually seeking to drive an evil agenda.

In my experience, that's usually the case.

Ultimately, and most scarily, what you choose to believe at a superficial level, is usually a reflection of corroborating your own fears, prejudice and insecurities – or you'd naturally choose to dig further.

Always be careful what you believe, because it talks to who you are. DM

  • Mike Abel
    mikeabel.jpg
    Mike Abel

    Mike Abel is regarded as one of South Africa's leading marketing and advertising practitioners. He is the Founder & Chief Executive of M&Saatchi Abel and the M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in Africa. He is the former CEO of M&C Saatchi Group, Australia and before that, co-led the Ogilvy South Africa Group as COO and Group Managing Director, Cape Town. Mike has been awarded Advertising Leader in South Africa by both the Financial Mail and Finweek : and his company was named Best Agency in SA in 2015. Married to Sara and with 3 young sons, Mike is a regular speaker, writer and is passionate about politics and contemporary African art.

    His company is proudly also the home of the phenomenon called The Street Store, the open-source, pop-up clothing store for the homeless. It has gone on to become a global movement providing a free shopping experience for hundreds of thousands of homeless people around the world.

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