Fake News Versus Humor

 "Both fake news and humor employ verisimilitude to make it appear that the event, person, or thing they describe is as real as possible."

Fake news is harmful, but humor has redeeming social values especially its ability to highlight absurdities in life. One risk social media faces these days is that the proliferation of fake news may just crowd out legitimate humor. 

There is a similarity and a difference between fake news and humor, making it difficult for ordinary citizens to tell which is which. They both use the devise of "temporary suspension of disbelief," a concept popularized in literary criticism by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 19th century.

Both fake news and humor employ verisimilitude to make it appear that the event, person, or thing they describe is as real as possible. The height of one’s emotional involvement in a movie or fake news or humor depends on how successfully they are able to use verisimilitude, i.e., how closely they resemble reality.  So fake news and humor use both stylistic devices to make you believe that they are true... until you willingly suspend your disbelief, say, after the movie or comedy/humor or after reading fake news.

The problem is when you cannot tell fake news from humor. To avoid falling into this trap, in other words, to make out the difference between fake news and humor, you must examine their objective, intention, or purpose.

Humor is intended to entertain, to make you laugh, a healthy activity in itself, in addition to being informative and useful in pointing out foibles and absurdities in society and in the polity. But fake news has an ulterior motive of doing harm to an institution, party, person, or viewpoint. Its entertainment value, if there is any, is merely secondary. Fake news, therefore, is malicious and subversive while humor is primarily funny. Fake news is intended to deceive while humor at its best can clarify and elucidate.

So when in doubt whether an item is fake news or humor, ask yourself: Is it harmful, and who is it harming? If it is, then just scroll down or delete the post. Otherwise, go ahead, have fun with humor!

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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