ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The Real and the Fake in Democracy

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In the life of a robust democracy, the presence of fake news sounds almost like an oxymoron. In such forms of democracy, reality, howsoever inconvenient it may be, finds its expression both in the speech of political leaders and other social forms of assertion. The existence of the real has to be transparent, both through its circulation in and by the media as well as its argumentative articulation in deliberative democracy. A normatively responsible media through its communication affect has the responsibility to circulate the content of reality without distortion. The media plays an important role in connecting social consciousness with the consequences of reality. It has much greater responsibility in building up democratic discourse around what is real in society. It is in this context that fake news seems contrary to the ideal of democracy. And, yet, we often hear, both in the West as well as in India, about the phenomenon of fake news corrupting the texture of democracy.

Fake news, however, is not limited to the circulation of unreal or distorted information, or misinformation. Even making false promises, particularly during election campaigns, or projecting failure as spectacular success also form a part of fake news. The complaints that are usually made by the opposition forces are validated by this observation.

It has been generally assumed and even observed that those who are either seeking formal institutional power or those who want to seek efficacy to their power tend to use fake news. But, the question is: Why do such politicians need fake information or news to capture and later defend their power?

One of the simple answers that can be offered in this regard is related to the election contests both in the United States (US) and India. In the game for power, politicians seem to use fake news only to score an advantage over their immediate political opponents. The party that comes to power, continues to require fake information, inadequate data, and other forms of deception in order to defend its hold over institutional power. It obviously means that such parties in power do not have the best specimen or evidence of accomplished promises to seek efficacy to their power. Put differently, those in power refrain from using “bad specimens” such as the deteriorating levels of quality of life, growing social tension, and the vagaries of the market and financial institutions that have been ruining the life of many. The ruling parties can resort to straightforward communication of such bad specimens only at the great risk of losing popular support and offering grounds for the opposition to launch a scathing attack. Thus, on the surface, the target of fake news is to smother the oppositional voice.

However, a deeper look into the intentions of the ruling party would suggest that such opposition by parties is just a secondary adversary. It is the voters who are the primary targets of fake news. This is precisely because they cannot be taken for granted as far as electoral support is concerned. Voters may turn against the party that is failing to deliver on many fundamental issues that closely affect the common people. Hence, voters cannot be left unattended and hence they need to be constructed in fakery. Thus, fake news is not about the truth, but about the people who can be pushed away from the truth. Fakery, thus, becomes an ever needed ground for such parties that have an infinite hunger for power. Fakery is a performative ground for such parties. The consequences of fakery are cognitively corrosive.

A person who becomes a tool for such fakery stops using reason to separate the fake from the real or in filtering the real from the fake. The success of fake news depends on the voter’s disposition or readiness to adopt essentially a fabricated and often distorted version of reality or the actual performance of the government in power. Constructing people into fakery results in the violation of voters’ rights to self-possession or the freedom of self-determination. It actually vitiates the autonomous judgment that may result from their critical capacity. It is the common people and their capacity to take independent judgment that might go against the internal designs of the ruling party.

What are the consequences of fake news for democracy? Fake news is an indication of a deeper crisis in democracy. If ruling parties overuse fake news for doping people into self-deception, it is bound to lead not only to a crisis in democracy, but also a much more serious systemic crisis. Social division and economic slowdown are the sure symptoms of such a crisis. It is true that any action, which for its nature and efficacy depends on expanding others’ ignorance and powerlessness, ultimately fails.

Updated On : 1st Nov, 2019

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