What would Foucault say about fake news? | BBC Ideas

What would Foucault say about fake news? | BBC Ideas


French philosopher Michel Foucault is one of the most cited thinkers
of the 20th Century. He died in 1984, but his work
feels particularly timely right now, as it’s largely about knowledge,
truth and power. “Everything I do, I do in order that
it may be of use,” he once said. So what might Foucault say
about the world today – where terms like ‘fake news’
and ‘post truth’ are bandied around, and with the rise of social media
and algorithms? Foucault’s work
is not straightforward or easy to understand. Unlike Marx or Freud,
Foucault didn’t believe in all-embracing theories
to explain the world. Life is complicated and nuanced! He argued that language –
and the structures that underpin it – helps shape the way we see things. Words matter. They frame the debate and
how we understand the world. He called this
the ‘archaeological’ method. But he was also interested
in understanding social structures – like capitalism – and the complicated
power dynamics at play – in particular, the relation between
these power structures and knowledge. He called this the
‘genealogical’ method. So the ‘archaeological’ Foucault
would be fascinated by social media, and how the original author of a post
can so quickly disappear from view, as the text takes on
a self-replicating life of its own. The more politically engaged
‘genealogical’ Foucault would focus on how it can offer
a voice to marginalized groups – immigrants for example – and, in some cases,
even stir up revolution. And the later Foucault, profoundly influenced by
Ancient Greek and Roman theories about how we can
best care for ourselves, would look at how
social media can open up chinks in conventional power structures – gaps where we can transform
ourselves for the better. But he would also say “wake up!” Foucault – both the careful scholar
and the cultural rebel – would sound the alarm
about how social media can trap people in echo chambers. He’d argue that we have
imprisoned ourselves in a system of constant surveillance giving away so much
personal data about our lives to Google, Facebook, YouTube and the
rest, with barely a second thought. He’d be analysing how data
harvested from our profiles is being used to control
us without our knowing – to influence not just what we see
and buy, but also how we vote. He would show how
social media can function as yet another form
of micro-management – and be all the more
pervasive and powerful because the operations underpinning
it, algorithms, for example, are near-invisible – although they make us highly visible. And he would be warning us that, as our awareness grows
that we may be being observed and controlled as objects, we will be increasingly likely
to monitor ourselves – we will become
self-scrutinizing subjects. “Remember the panopticon,”
he would say. This was an inexpensive way
of old-school crowd-control proposed by philosopher Jeremy
Bentham in the late 18th Century. Picture a central tower –
in a prison, for example. The prisoners can’t see in, so they never know whether
they’re being watched or not. The result? They effectively internalize
the surveillance and modify their own behaviours
as if they were. Our self-imprisonment becomes
even more insidious and damaging when the walls are, in fact, fake – when we are controlled by fake news,
replicating at terrifying speed, often unwittingly
through our own actions. If we believe the news to be true, then the power
to shape our lives lies not with us but with those who
know it to be false. And if in time we come to think
that all news is fake, if we become entirely cynical, then we no longer
have the vital tools we need to create ourselves as individuals or develop our communities
as we’d like. But is Foucault in fact part
of the problem here? Did he prepare the ground
for the rise of fake news? The charge here is that he denies
the possibility of objective truth and this has opened the way
for claims of competing truths and ‘alternative facts’ in Trump’s America and
Brexit Britain, for example. Sometimes he’s even accused
of helping to dissolve the boundary between true and false altogether. But this charge is itself fake news. Foucault would both relish the irony
but also call it out loud and clear. Foucault challenges
specific social sciences about their underlying assumptions – he does not question
all claims to objective truth, like those in maths, for example. As an activist, he campaigned
for accurate, factual news reporting. Indeed, his very notion
of the ‘care of the self’ is based on ancient
Greek and Roman thinkers who viewed philosophy as a way
of life committed to truthfulness. So Foucault would be fascinated by
the opportunities created by social media to give a voice to
the voiceless and to fight tyranny. But he would also be shouting from
the barricades: “Don’t become a slave
to the invisible forces!”

36 thoughts on “What would Foucault say about fake news? | BBC Ideas

  1. Main news channels seem to be more fake than anything. They say things like Russia influences elections. What planet are they on? Most people couldn't care less about what Russia say, but the Express newspaper has an anti EU propaganda front page headline most days that nobody seems to care about

  2. I'm unsure if most media is dumb, or if it's trying to dumb down society by getting people to care about talentless celebs?
    I've studied EU law and hardly see any real facts about that. People don't know everything from the EU has been good and everything from Tories has been bad. Anti EU politicians just don't want EU protecting British people, such as EU saying workers should have enough breaks and genetically modified ingredients should be labelled.
    People trust Boris Johnson on leaving the EU. When he was on a TV show trying to get support to arm extremists in Syria against Assad, like how whistle blower David Shayler told how Tories were funding Al Qa da against Gaddafi, the media made a fuss about an unimportant dumb comment he made, but when he said on the same show that there wasn't a vote on the second war against Iraq, the media didn't say anything, when we wouldn't have gone to war second time if more Tories hadn't voted yes than other parties.
    That means he's an evil liar putting on a clown act to get away with telling Tory lies and media is in with him, or him and the media are stupid, and he keeps being given important jobs running the country

  3. In the US there is basically a binary consisting of two manufactured realities that ultimately work together to achieve common objectives (division, class warfare, surveillance, perpetual war etc.) They appear to be dramatically divergent, but actually have a lot of continuity. For example, they both shift blame to externalities (left: Russians right: immigrants) to deflect from internal anti-democratic forces and they both exploit manufactured fear to limit citizen power, line corporate pockets, and increase the security of the upper class. They work together cause chaos (Shock doctrine), and then give the masses two opposing and irreconcilable solutions to choose from. It ensures division and suppresses critical thought.

  4. "marginalized groups like migrants" Soros is funding them, ngo's are lawyering them up, the msm caters to them and frankly we're even throwing our culture under the bus to please them (especially Europe). If only homeless people or low income elderly were so "marginalized".. you guys are Fake News and the enemy of humanity

  5. You believe a man over a woman because you value men more. You believe a white person over a person of color because you value white more. Very simple and subconscious biases.

  6. One of the reliable channels BBC that accurately reports on aviation, unlike US media which says tarmac instead of runway

  7. Absolutely appalling behaviour propagating post modernism/Neo Marxism from the BBC here. It was of the same spirit millions died during the Soviet Union. Post modernism and Marxism are both rooted in the same spirit. Nihilism.

    Philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche predicted the Soviet Union, and the deaths it would cause because he claimed “God is dead”. Meaning we lost connection to the spirit of “God” and hence Christianity became too dogmatic. He predicted this would lead to Nihilism, and then second rate rational based morality system systems like Marxism. Post modernism is just Marxism wrapped up with different words.

    We can’t ground a country in ideology, it must be grounded in some form of spirituality, so we must rescue the previous Christian values which have now died, and re incorporate them into our society. As it is Christianity, like fairy tales, that contain Archetypal truths of the human spirit, of which give us meaning of how to act in this world.

  8. Things like fake news can become like a ritual where by it connects you to the other members of the group, suspicion can serve its purpose because you change the norms of the group. A control issue. He probably stops short from saying he doesn't want to be a product of his environment, he wants his environment to be a product of him, probably did just want to be useful.

  9. I'm not a toss pot French philosopher but clearly the reason the term fake news is heard so much is because it has multiple different connotations. The connotation I ascribe it to is large corporate entities like the BBC, deliberately maligning, misrepresenting or out right lieing, probably through ommission about views it itself perceives as ' fake news' because they have no arguments to refute what the so called 'fake news' is reporting. Notice how complicated that is. That's deliberate.

  10. Who cares about what a nihilist thinks? I mean truthfully they aren't commenting anything riveting or revolutionary.

  11. I am glad that someone has come to Foucault's defense fairly. It is strange how the Peterson effect has created a new scapegoat. At least it is merely dead Frenchmen rather than the living.

    I am a big reader of Jung's works as well. It would be nice to use Jung's ideas to retreat into a Harry Potter fantasy at this point in history. A pity that it is a bit of a luxury.

    Foucault's ideas helps me embrace the grit and work with what we got.

  12. What would Foucault say about the BBC? Biased, racist, sexist, social engineering, cultural marxism. Everything the BBC produces has an agenda: politics, science, weather, sport, comedy, entertainment.

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