What is “fake news”?
Basically, it is a story planted in the media, or through gossip, intended to mislead or deceive people into believing something partially or entirely fabricated to elicit a desired response.
So, if a politician wants to discredit a competitor, a fake and usually unfavorable story about the competitor is released to the “media” which may shift the votes of a community.
Indeed, as we are now learning, elaborate mining of personal data by certain social media groups has been tapped by sophisticated marketing companies to target political messages in an attempt to sway attitudes and votes.
The reality is it’s hard to get through the day in our troubled times without some exposure to fake news in the newspapers, internet, radio, or TV.
However, this isn’t something new, we’re just more efficient today in spreading the lies. “Fake news” (which used to be called “propaganda”) has been around for a very long time as monarchs and heads of state as well as corporations, and special interest groups, have attempted to shift public sentiment on various issues.
It’s not surprising that mobs can form and violence can follow when fake news is used to inflame the masses about some blatant social injustice.
Yet, the sometimes visceral reactions we have to fake news are clearly some of the reasons we are unable to find lasting happiness because we are persistently “triggered” emotionally with negative feelings of anger, rage, worry, fear, resentment, revenge, and sometimes violence.
Is this happiness? No!
So, what can we do about this to avoid being sucked-in to these psychological manipulations designed to support someone’s nefarious agenda.
First, we need to understand that it’s not the false story which angers us, but our own greed, craving, and attachment to an ideology, or concept which our ego tells us we are right, and by extension, others are wrong.
Buddhism teaches us that we are motivated by greed or aversion which is a result of incorrect thinking, or distorted perceptions or delusion. The greed in this case is a craving to “do the right thing” to correct the injustice, and the aversion, or hate, anger, and rage is directed at the perceived source of this injustice, or the intended target.
Buddhism also teaches us “equanimity” which means a more balanced mental calmness or composure, which is a “reaction of non-reactiveness” that must be cultivated with awareness and an understanding of intent.
So, when we find a corporation is willfully polluting drinking water, we can sensibly protest, and sometimes boycott their products to force a change. But if we become angry and hate filled, or violent, we become hurtful to ourselves and others, which by nature not different from the polluting corporation, and this can be derived from our deep attachment of the desire to being right. Being right doesn’t justify negative thinking and actions, which only add to our unhappiness.
Likewise, when there is blatant bigotry and racism, we want to correct the problem in the humanitarian spirit that all lives matter. Violent angry protests with vicious personal attacks on others only makes the situation worse. It is greed which drives our passion; the selfish desire for being “right” and therefore morally “superior” to others. We need to take an honest look at ourselves and our motives.
The point of this article from the Buddhist point of view is to understand first that it can be difficult to distinguish fake news from real news suggesting investigative diligence rather than knee jerk reactions; and second, when we determine the veracity of the news, we respond with the “right view” and intention, meaning to do something good, versus reacting with negative behavior, which only makes the situation worse for everyone.
So when we become aware through our new found mindfulness that we are “reacting” to something, we should take a few minutes of quiet contemplation to impartially examine the issue, and then decide how to respond, if at all, with positive and helpful thoughts and actions.
We will all be better off and “happier” if more people chose this Buddhist point of view.