One of the year-end rituals I like most is the announcing by the big dictionaries of their words of the year (WOTY). The Oxford Dictionary’s 2012 word was ‘omnishambles’. In 2013, it was ‘selfie’, 2014, ‘vape’. In 2015, it chose not a word, but a pictograph – the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji. In 2016, it was ‘post-truth’. What’s it to be in 2017? My money’s on ‘fake news’, which, strictly speaking, is two words, but please indulge me.
Collins has already chosen it as their WOTY. It’s not a new word/term, but Collins reports that its usage has increased 365% since 2016.
One man, above all others, is responsible for this upsurge. Donald Trump has weaponised it in his attempts to deflect scrutiny and discredit those whose job it is to hold him to account.
The word has turned out to be something of a boon for serious news outlets which have seen subscriber numbers rise as people have sought out better versions of the truth. The word has also led to mainstream media companies looking for ways to badge their content and highlight their superior methodologies.
While the above is positive, there has been a massive downside. The president’s unrelenting smearing of bona fide US media has not only lessened the impact of their good work overseas – factions in Libya were quick to dismiss CNN’s recent report into human trafficking in that country as ‘fake’ – but emboldened despots around the world to ignore, at best, or persecute, at worst, journalists. When the US president describes journalists as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth”, what more justification do they need?
‘Fake news’ is unquestionably my WOTY, but the optimist in me hopes that in 2018, we’ll find a more uplifting word, like ‘truth’ or … ‘impeachment’.