White Rock council candidate Jeffery Simpson says he believes the term ‘fake news’ has become “toxic” – and he’d like it left out of future discourse by both council candidates and city staff.
In an email to Peace Arch News, Simpson particularly referenced a city staff presentation, Addressing Misinformation – made on Sept. 18, 2017 to council’s external communications review sub-committee – which uses the term repeatedly to preface a discussion in which it states “the city is aware of individuals, groups and media who seem to be engaged in misinformation and/or disinformation.”
Simpson argues that, in the context of last week’s shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, in which five journalists died, ‘fake news’ has become unacceptable terminology, and should not be used in a staff presentation that is accessible online.
“Casting journalists as the enemy of the people was always going to end badly,” he wrote. “We should correct misconceptions of our point of view, and lay out the facts, but let’s all stop using the term ‘fake news.’”
Talking to PAN Wednesday, Simpson noted the expression ‘fake news’ has “evolved rapidly since it first entered the public consciousness in 2016.”
“I understand the city’s perception that they want to clear up what they feel is misinformation in the community and the press – but that term has become so loaded that it’s a poor one to use.”
Simpson said that, traditionally, the press has been “one of the pillars of society – it’s what helps keep governments accountable,” and that, even when politicians haven’t agreed with coverage, they have understood the necessity for it.
This has changed, he said, in the current political climate in which politicians have seized on the phrase to discredit any negative story about them – “(U.S. President Donald) Trump is the extreme example.”
While the city has not said the press is the enemy of the people, he noted, “that is a couple of steps along the line.”
He said council opponents aren’t exempt from his criticism, noting critics have been “quick to say ‘fake news’ without grappling with the specifics or seeing the other side of the story.”
“We’ve gotten combative. (‘Fake news’) has become something both sides lob at each other, both in a local context and wherever there are two sides of an issue.”
He added that while the presentation on ‘fake news’ was created by city staff, “council sets the tone and sets the agenda.”
Asked Thursday if the city would consider avoiding the term ‘fake news,’ chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill said: “This is diving into the semantics of misinformation and disinformation. The terminology is not the City’s focus. The City’s goal is to provide accurate, evidence-based information to our residents, and when we see and hear inaccurate and intentionally misleading information circulating in the community, we have a duty to our residents (to) set the record straight.”