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'Fake' as a Floating Signifier in Danish News

The next speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Johan Farkas, whose focus is on 'fake news' in Denmark. he begins by suggesting that we are now entering a hyper-factual era: digital media are transforming our definition of news, and political leaders have been capitalising on this by creating their own definitions of news. This has also been described as an era of 'post-truth', but at the same time we have rarely talked more about what is 'true' and what is 'false' than we do today.

In Denmark, tabloids have been at the forefront of these developments. One of the major tabloids, Ekstrabladet, is featuring conventional news next to readers' letters from far-right activists without any clear visual distinction, for example, and this substantially undermines journalistic definitions of what is news; there is instead an increasing intermeshing of news and (extreme) political propaganda.

Such readers' letters are also widely shared beyond the tabloid site itself, via Facebook and other platforms; 22 of these letters were written by the Danish leader of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, in fact. The letters are deliberately written in a quasi-journalistic style in order to obfuscate the border between news stories and racist propaganda.

This is not a new phenomenon in itself, but the means of disseminating such propaganda in a highly obfuscated way have become significantly more accessible to such far-right activists. The tabloid appears to allow this in part because the articles draw in a readership, and require no journalistic work themselves – so the extremists are also exploiting a crisis of journalism.

In their articles, the extremists do refer to a highly one-sided selection of 'facts'; in this way they appear to journalistic conventions, and therefore this represents a 'hyper-factual' phenomenon: the factual is not becoming obsolete, but instead is now a locus of political struggle as different sites squabble over what facts are 'true' or 'fake'. 'Fake' has become a floating signifier.