Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

The fake news virus

COMMENT

TAGS: Media, Politics, Society

The term “fake news” has become an international catchphrase over the past few months. However, it had already entered the household lexicon here in Greece thanks to the wonderful and anarchic world that is the internet.

Yesterday, a friend called me to ask if it was true that I would run as a candidate on a party’s so-called state list. Three years ago, many friends contacted me to express their surprise at speculation that I would become manager at ERT state broadcaster. I was never offered that particular job, but reports circulated for days.

The strangest thing happened to me when the fake news phenomenon first appeared in Greece in early 2009. I remember speaking to a friend on the phone while walking in the street. It was not a political discussion. I remember arriving at a hotel in central Athens where I had an appointment. While I was waiting in the lobby, one of the two candidates for the New Democracy leadership walked in. He asked me how I was and, seeing that I was alone, asked if I wanted to have a coffee with him. I took up the offer.

Soon, I started receiving text messages. I did not check them until I received a call from a colleague who had just read something on a blog. According to the report, I had been spotted shouting into my phone that a certain New Democracy candidate was doing poorly in the polls. After that, the report said, I was seen heading for a meeting with the candidates’ aides. “He is there now,” the blog said. The only problem was that I was having coffee with the rival candidate. And our meeting was pure coincidence.

I found it hard to convince my friends that the blog post was unfounded. For a moment I thought of releasing a statement to deny the report. But it would obviously have no meaningful effect. I tried to understand why someone would bother to make up a story out of nothing. It was to no avail. Since that day, I have operated on the belief that there is nothing better I can do than be patient and strong.

I sometimes think that millions of people, including myself, have possibly made crucial decisions – even cast votes – on the basis of baseless information.

Greece is no stranger to this phenomenon. Conspiracy theories, character assassinations, and all sorts of bizarre scenarios have become mainstream in the eyes of Greek society. In fact, some old-school politicians took advantage of fake news long before Donald Trump did. Today, many of the same politicians are in despair as they too have become victims of the trend. It’s like a virus which has struck Western society, eating away at it from within.

There is still no antidote to this disease. It’s rather worrying to see the US looking increasingly like our country.

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