The Times/Kingsley Napley Student Advocacy Competition 2017 launched on 18 May 2017. The title this year is:

“Do we need new laws to combat fake news?”

Donald is known for his semi-intelligible ramblings, mischievous personality and occasional outbursts of rage. He’s had various jobs throughout the years without great success, but he’s pretty good at shining coins. With his distinctive yellow-orange bill, he’s one of the most recognisable characters in the world. So it’s no surprise this anthropomorphic white duck was the subject of widespread war propaganda during the Second World War.

Propaganda has been used long before Disney animations, and can be traced back as far as ancient times when Octavian used a campaign of disinformation to help his victory over Marc Anthony in the final war of the Roman Republic.

In more modern history, propaganda has also played a role in politics as well as military campaigns. Infamous political consultant Roger Stone, in a recent Netflix documentary, admits to having misled the American public back in the 1960 US election, by convincing voters that Richard Nixon ‘proposed having school on Saturdays.’ Since 1960, Mr Stone has appeared at every major American political event. So it’s no surprise that he was hired as senior advisor to Donald (not the Duck, but the Trump) at the start of his presidential campaign, and helped to develop a series of ‘alternative facts’… or ‘fake news.’ But after President Trump’s incessant labelling of the press as ‘fake news’, the irony of him teaming up with Mr Stone is undeniable.

Does ‘fake news’ differ from propaganda?

The accepted definition of propaganda is ‘information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.’ In our previous blog we acknowledged that there is no accepted definition of ‘fake news’, and for purposes of this series of blogs, we’ve defined the term as the publication of intentionally false statements of fact.

The main difference between propaganda and ‘fake news’ is that propaganda is traditionally funded and controlled by the government, with the ultimate aim being political gain. For example, during the Second World War the US Government commissioned Walt Disney Productions to produce propaganda in the form of animations for every branch of the military.

‘Fake news’ on the other hand can be created by individuals, journalists or smaller groups of people, spreading stories across the globe using the power of social media.

But the two share one main similarity – a distortion of the truth with the aim of driving some form of action, be it emotional, economic or political.

The rising trend of ‘fake news’ is very different to the state-controlled analogue modes of 20th century propaganda. With social media platforms the public now have a global publishing reach, just as wide as governments, and politicians have minimal control over this. Is that is one reason why ‘fake news’ has been given a label and thrust into the spotlight?

Roger Stone has been plugging the line ‘one man’s dirty trick is another man’s political, civil, action’ since 2009. He assisted Donald Trump during his campaign and claims to be the reason for his success. With this in mind, is ‘fake news’ merely a propaganda campaign created by the state, in order to de-legitimise news outlets and journalists who dare to challenge their views? If so, is legislating to combat ‘fake news’ necessary or a form of double standards?