Orwell's 1984 and Fake News

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George Orwell – a soothsayer or just an ordinary writer with a vivid imagination / George Orwell’s 1984 as a timeless scenario

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This article is basically set to uncover the veil of George Orwell’s creativity in placing unexpired and timeless image adhered to the novel of“Nineteen Eighty Four” that coincided with political and fake news scenarios whose occurrence dated back to approximately less than fifty or sixty decades ago, but in a such way how these images repapered, reproduced, and interconnected with similar situations, political incidents and scenarios in both 20th and 21st centuries. We will try to critically analyze the characters’ acts and quotes from the novel underlining the political images, fake news and their insinuations that the writer displayed not only for criticizing the political systems and regimes at that time but also for foreseeing his readers’ future which will witness the repetition of the same scenarios. The article will try to prove how the images appeared in Orwell’s novel will remain as a mirror of renewable incidents as long as the dirty games in politics will never be over or removed. Finally, the article concludes thereupon the political ideology and scenarios in Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four” akin to such scenarios and incidents in truth additionally to the timeless qualities of his works which still appeal for readers of various generations and different cultures.

For those who haven't read the book yet, let's briefly introduce the novel 1984. This work is a dystopian fiction that is about a dystopian futuristic society in 1984 during which Britain has transformed into a “superstate” and named “Oceania” after the global war. Elements of war and futurism is a crucial theme which Orwell takes into consideration throughout 1984.

Oceania is ruled by a totalitarian government named “The Party” and therefore the Party's leader is Big Brother, who enjoys an intense cult of personality but might not even exist. The government has four ministries; Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of affection with torture and therefore the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. All jobs within the country are under the control of those four ministries. The country, which consists of senior party leaders, party members, and therefore the proletariat, is kept in check in the least times. Moreover, party members are civil servants and therefore the proletariat constitutes a category freed from support and supervision. Sounds familiar (The Party – SDx, SBx, HDx; Big Brother – MD, BI, DČ…) and highly related to Bosnia and Herzegovina? Yeah, we know…

How can we connect this book with the SLAM project, its goals and fake news? Read the following paragraphs carefully.

Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull. / The people will believe what the media tells them they believe.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the characters’ lives are completely controlled by government forces and beliefs. This control extends even to the foremost private recesses of an individual. Orwell depicts a bleak and dystopian world so barren of individuality and privacy that “nothing [is] your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” He employs color imagery to convey the negative and stifling effects of such a world over the “colorless, crushed-looking” victims of its regime. Individuals are unable to measure open, free and authentic lives because the Party demands absolute loyalty and absolute control over its subjects. The Party even demands uniformity of thought and total control over even the foremost intimate and personal recesses of individuality, the mind. Winston’s decision to write down his private thoughts in a diary highlight the elemental human need for freedom of thought because it is the only vehicle available to him to “carry on the human heritage.” Even the youngsters are used as weapons to invade their parents’ privacy. They're actively encouraged to watch their parents’ actions and betray them. Orwell’s Oceania may be a world during which “It [is] almost normal for people over thirty to be scared of their own children.”

Orwell’s book concludes with protagonist, Winston, totally accepting the Party’s rule, fully participating within the ritualistic Two Minute Hate, and believing that two plus two equals five. Nowadays, we seem to be Winston, but more importantly Big Tech seems to behave just like the Party. How is that? Well, we accept the cookies on every single website and online media, we agree with the Terms of Privacy on every single installed app without even reading it (yeah, you can relate this to Bill Gates, chipping, vaccines and 5G as well), we believe in Facebook news and comments on those articles, we believe in some “shocking, unbelievable, PHOTO+VIDEO” Instagram posts.

As mentioned in one of the previous articles and according to research by Mediacentar Sarajevo, due to a fall in advertising revenues, the media in B&H are getting increasingly hooked in to public finance. Subsidies and grants are allocated to the media during a non-transparent manner, while advertising revenues from public companies are exploited for political interests.

Media ownership remains under-regulated: there has been no law limiting media concentration of ownership since 2006 and no information on possible political influences is out there to the general public.

What this means? This means that some famous and credible media in Bosnia and Herzegovina are in the service of several strongest political parties and journalists have to publish news that are permitted by their political bosses. We believe to those famous media, because their name is credible, they have the best status, but are they really trustworthy? I think that Orwell’s quotes “The people will believe what media tells them they believe.”, “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.” are true in this case.

What I find disheartening is that there are a couple of simple things that are advocated for an extended time that might, if not solve the matter entirely, at least help significantly:

Add a warning message – Social media companies have tried to eliminate every friction point for users so as to maximize the quantity of communication and engagement on their platforms. But what if they took a special approach? What if, when a user was close to post or tweet something inflammatory, social media companies interrupted with a pop-up message saying something along the lines of: “Are you sure?” Instagram implemented something similar in 2019 to limit damaging reactive communications. Though this approach won’t prevent everyone from posting outrageous content, it'll force tons folks to pause and reflect before we do so.

Stop showing suggested posts or videos as how to stay users scrolling / viewing even once they have seen everything that the people they follow have posted – YouTube launched AutoPlay in 2015, serving its viewers a series of continuously playing suggested videos. This feature is essentially considered because the main driver for the dissemination of utmost content. Instagram, which had resisted so far, changed its policy in August 2019 and commenced including suggested posts in users’ feeds.

Aggressively fight for facts – When someone writes that “two plus two equal five,” make it your mission to a minimum of stop propagating the lie, regardless of how exciting it's for your users. This may be an incredibly difficult and certain never-ending battle. Mistakes are going to be made. But they’re worthwhile. Efforts thus far are too timid; investments in robust fact checking teams and processes got to be ramped up dramatically. Researchers are still divided on whether placing warning messages alongside false information is effective in limiting the sharing of it. Some have concluded that it could make users less likely to shared; others have seen no impact. But it’s worth trying.

Relentlessly identify and pack up accounts, pages, and forums that promote hate – A study on the consequences of a ban of two hate communities by Reddit in 2015 demonstrated that “by shutting down these echo chambers of hate, Reddit caused the people participating to either leave the location or dramatically change their linguistic behavior.” In other words, the extent of hate decreased altogether, even when an equivalent users continued to use Reddit and joined other forums.

All of those solutions come right down to an easy idea: a very human-centric business—one that desires to enhance humanity—should support its users’ strengths, instead of exploit our weaknesses. Though our world today may resemble Nineteen Eighty-Four, there’s still time for us to write down a special ending.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

It is scary how, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party uses Newspeak to strip meaning out of language, making it impossible for people to possess certain thoughts. Reducing the amount of words available to people prevents them from having proper feelings and concepts , and makes the planet harder to process and comprehend. When language loses its meaning (“war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength“), the Party is on top of things of what's considered reality. Facts and independent thought don’t really exist anymore:

By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. the entire literature of the past will are destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely become something different, but actually contradictory of what they wont to be. Even the literature of The Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you've got a slogan like Freedom is Slavery when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The entire climate of thought are going to be different. In fact, there'll be no thought, as we know it now.

During the preparation of this article, we did a qualitative research and compared several articles published on the Internet. We can see that numerous media use words such as “shocking, scary and exclusive news”, “PHOTO+VIDEO” and then there are max. 10 simple sentences which try to prove something that later turns out to be fake news. For example, have a glance at this article which uses clickbait title, catchy photos and aforementioned words: https://www.mojevrijeme.hr/magazin/2018/11/sokantna-vijest-koju-morate-znati-o-ovim-migrantima/ . This article is great, detailed and its authors did a wonderful job in investigating the real truth. However, there is an article which says that migrants are preparing ducks for their meal at the river Una and that local citizens are shocked. That article is shared on Facebook by BHnovosti and when you try to open and read it, you can't (https://novosti-tv.net/2018/07/05/sokantno-migranti-rostiljaju-patke-na-uni-biscani-zgrozeni/ ). What is more “shocking” here is that people believe in the second article, they think it is reality, they choose to generalize and believe in fake videos and photos.

Our own language is becoming more reductive and simplistic, as a results of social media’s character limits and use of hashtags to surface and promote catchy, easy-to-understand ideas, events, and trends. On these platforms, nuance isn't rewarded. And by allowing any opinion (no matter how fringe) to require on the looks of fact, social networks have made it harder for us to grasp our reality.

The rise of ‘alternative facts’ has spiked the sales for George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, as people steel oneself against the truth of a Big Brother dystopia.

Facts are indisputable truths. Facts aren't subjective, measurable or up for discussion. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘facts’ in the following way: ”A fact may be a piece of data presented as having objective reality.“

So when Kellyanne Conway tried to press the narrative that falsehoods might be called “alternative facts,” people were understandably alarmed.

Parallels are drawn between Conway’s statement and George Orwell’s novel 1984 during which ‘alternative facts’ — there called ‘untruths’ and ‘doublespeak’ — are employed by an authoritarian government in an effort to regulate the narrative of its people’s reality.

If there’s any excellent news to require faraway from Conway’s comments, it's that these parallels have actually led many truth-seekers to select up Orwell’s important novel to realize some perspective. The Washington Post is one among many shops now reporting that the long-lasting classic has soared to the highest 5 on Amazon.com.

Forbes’ article “As Orwell's 1984 Turns 70 It Predicted Much Of Today's Surveillance Society” from 2019 says this: “George Orwell’s famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four turns 70 years old next month. Looking back on its predictions and the state of the world today, how much did it get right in its predictions of a dystopian surveillance state where every word is monitored, unacceptable speech is deleted, history is rewritten or deleted altogether and individuals can become ‘unpersons’ for holding views disliked by those in power? It turns out Orwell’s predictions were frighteningly accurate.

“In 1984, it was the state that determined what constituted acceptable speech in keeping society orderly.

“In 2019, it is a small cadre of private companies in Silicon Valley and their executives that wield absolute power over what we are permitted to see and say online.

“In 1984, there were just a few countries to which most of the world’s citizens belonged.

“In 2019, there are just a few social media empires to which most of the world’s netizens belong.

“In 1984, it was the state that conducted surveillance and censored speech.

“In 2019, social media companies deploy vast armies of human and algorithmic moderators that surveil their users 24/7, flagging those that commit thoughtcrimes and deleting their violations from existence. Those that commit too many thoughtcrimes are banished to ‘unperson’ status by these same private companies, without any intervention or even in contradiction with the will of the state and without any right to appeal.”

 

 

References:

  1. Diana Ali; 2020; The nature of Revolution in George Orwell's “Animal Farm; The Journal of Theological Studies.
  2. Meghna Chakrabarti; 06 June 2019; ‘1984’ In 2019: Did George Orwell's Classic Get It Right; Wbur.org website; Accesed on 25 April 2021 (https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/06/06/george-orwell-1984-technology-government-surveillance )
  3. Mohammad Al-Subaihi & Hanita Ismail; 2020; Orwell's 1984 and the concept of Powerlessness; International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences. 5. 289-297. 10.22161/ijels.51.48.
  4. Mohammed Amir & Amir Albloly & Mohammed Hizabr Alhusami; 2020; George Orwell's Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four as Timeless Scenarios: A Political Perspective.
  5. Muhammad Arif & Humaira Ahmad & Bakht Rahman; 2018; Dismantling Panopticonic Regime: Study of Orwell’s 1984
  6. Thomas Cushman and  John Rodden;  2004;  George Orwell:  Into  the  Twenty-First  Century; Boulder:  Paradigm Publishers. 
  7. Zeynepnur Bolulu & Soldiery War; 2018; Elements of War and Futurism in ‘1984’ by George Orwell

 

 

 

Author: Ajla Aljović 

Illustration: Ezana Ćeman