02:28:32 pm on
Tuesday 25 Apr 2017

Fake News World
David Simmonds

I wrote a column a couple of years ago, for the Wellington Times, about a new winery opening up somewhere south of Hillier and north of Consecon. The new winery was to feature mud wrestling, as one of its many planned entertainments. I ran into a number of people who told me they had been to look for the winery, but couldn’t find it.


Those stories were fiction.

I have a confession to make. The story was false. I made it up.

While I am at it, I also confess that I made up an earlier column about the proposed establishment of the Rice Pudding Hall of Fame in Wellington. Perhaps, one or two other columns started with a seemingly plausible premise. Then, I developed these ideas into something completely implausible. The column was a concoction of a fertile mind.

Fake news is everywhere. My favourite CBC radio show is devoted to fake news. Fake news is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

I make my confession, now, to get out in front of the suggestion I am of the same cloth as the bored teenager in Veles, Macedonia. He created about a hundred fake news website. He made himself rich getting people to click on the advertisements on these websites.


Readers can't be blamed for believing my fiction.

I can’t say I blame people for doing so. Who could resist a headline such as “Clinton Joined ISIS-led Cat Killing Cult?” Facebook has said it will do a better job of filtering out non-reputable news sources. I hope.

Surely, I tell myself, there is a line to drawn that puts me, as well as the crew of This is That, on the ‘acceptable’ side in the fake news world and our friend from Macedonia on the ‘unacceptable’ side. I’ve been scratching my head as to where that line is and all I’ve come up with is an itchy scalp and a few vague thoughts.

For example, it’s probably not enough for me to say my intentions are pure and I seek only to entertain rather than to sabotage a political campaign or make money. Is it the reader’s job to discern what the motives of the author and how can that be done, anyway. What distinguishes a pure motive from an ulterior one and why should it matter?

Maybe I am in the clear because the consequences of believing my fake news story are so mild. After all, whether or not people believe a County winery offers mud wrestling isn’t going to change the course of history.

There could have been consequences, of my fake news. Readers might have been angry about having their time wasted and their gas tanks emptied in the fruitless search for the imaginary winery. Just how serious do the consequences have to be before fake news becomes a bad thing?


Readers need to wiggle their antennae.

There does have to be some onus on the reader to extend his or her antennae. For example, last April 1 a newspaper in Bolton, England published an article about a new “left handed sandwich” being introduced especially for southpaws that struggle with their agility to hold lunch. I mean, come on!

Two other factors come into play. One is context. If an article were to appear on the front page of the Times next week saying “Mayor Quaiff Abducted by UFO!!!” people might take it seriously and be properly outraged when they discover it was a weak attempt at relief from the usual diet of council size, development charges and water bills stories. The other is familiarity. We expect the National Enquirer, because it’s been around for decades to give us juicy headlines about aliens and celebrities, and would be mildly disappointed if it were truer and tamer. I hope that regular readers of the Times know my column ventures down the fake news path from time to time, so that they know what they’re getting into, if they choose to read it.

Maybe the time has come to professionalize the occupation of humourist. Perhaps humorists need a licence, just as do funeral directors and home inspectors, too. An academy of Qualified Humour Specialists (QHS) could ensure that only those licensed according to strict professional standards are entitled to publish humour. If that sounds too Soviet, then at least it could mean something to have earned the QHS designation to put after your name. The rest would be up to the consumer. Take in fake news from a non-QHS accredited source at your own risk.

Sounds a bit crazy, but it’s better than trying to outlaw fake news.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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