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The 'Fake News' Debate in Norway

The next speaker at Future of Journalism 2017 is Bente Kalsnes, whose aim is to develop a more systematic approach to 'fake news' in the Norwegian context. Bente has some personal experience with this: her photo and name appeared in a Norwegian newspaper as a future Member of Parliament, even though she is not actually a candidate in the upcoming election.

But such mistakes and errors in the news are not the central definition of 'fake news'. Instead, the term is used by authoritarian leaders to attack unfavourable mainstream media coverage, and by media critics to describe various forms of political propaganda. Some also see 'fake news' as crafting true or partly true elements into a misleading message, out of political or commercial motives; common to many of these definitions is the fact that such content seeks to deliberately mislead or fool its readers. Motivations for this may be monetary, political, or trolling.

Norwegian media have covered this phenomenon in a number of ways. Bente has observed this coverage across 429 articles in ten newspapers: stories about its political influence identify villains, victims, and countries involved, focussing especially on the U.S. and Russia, particularly in the context of the 2016 election, and highlighting the role of hackers and conspiracy theorists. Trump and Putin, as purported perpetrators, and Clinton, as victim, appear prominently.

Norwegian media debate focusses on trust, verification, framing, and selection, and discusses the impacts on the overall public sphere; it highlights cases of 'fake news' production in Norway. Further discussion focusses on the role of social media in disseminating 'fake news', and explores potential industry or regulatory responses (pointing for example to recent legislative initiatives in Germany).

Suggestions for fighting 'fake news' include media literacy education; technological debunking solutions; moves to destroy the 'fake news' ecology; more subsidies for investigative journalism; and defences of mainstream editorial media. But overall, these divergent approaches also mean that 'fake news' is becoming an empty expression that means a variety of different things as it is being used by differing interests.