The Trump campaign has been marked by nontraditional methods of persuading the population to vote for the Republican candidate, with obviously phenomenal success. At every turn, The Donald has seemed to defy expectations and scandal has seemed to slide off, where for every other American politician, it has stuck.
Whilst much of this is due to geopolitics causing a significant shift further right in the electorate’s views, as is being mirrored across much of the Western world, some of this is also due to the advent of fake news on social media - much of which in the run up to the election, was pro-Trump by virtue of defaming the Hillary camp.
Yet perhaps the most recent allegations against Trump is one publication’s attempt to beat Trump at his own game, as it was the ‘fake news’ and the ‘total political witch hunt’ toward his opponent which brought him such success with the electoral college system.
Buzzfeed’s decision flies in the face of journalistic ethics, standards and tradition and is against everything that many in the industry stand for. This explains the mass denouncement of the editorial choice over the unsubstantiated publication by virtually every major news organisation. In practically any other circumstances they would be right to do so.
However, as Oxford dictionary’s Word of the Year epitomises, it seems we are now entering a post-truth world where fake news helps to win elections by influencing more people than the factual reporting of fourth estate.
The dossier has been circulating for months, with journalists desperately attempting to verify its claims. As yet, they have failed to do so, and quite possibly because the evidence they are searching for does not, or no longer, exists. This has led to Buzzfeed deciding to publish the document anyway, so that people can ‘make up their own minds.’
Is this the publication’s response to this post-truth world? If Trump was partly elected, and arguably Brexit was brought on the back of emotional responses and personal belief, rather than validated facts, then at what point must the journalistic industry turn inwards and ask itself how - or indeed if - it will adapt and respond. What is the strategic direction being debated in the boardrooms overlooking the newsrooms?
Yet, if trust in factual and expert reporting is so low that fake news is more believable to many social media users, then perhaps Buzzfeed’s action to publish the ‘unverified and potentially unverifiable‘ dossier will serve to only further erode that trust. However, does this argument not belong back in a world based on the cornerstone of truth?
In reporting which has the potential for global implications, Buzzfeed’s response is indeed clear - caveat it and let the people decide. Or perhaps more likely, let the emotional and individual belief in the validity of the dossier claims influence their credibility, rather than their grounding in reality. After all, this is a major reason why we are not reading about America’s first female president.
You can also view this article on the Huffington Post.