Several years ago, we introduced the concept of Fiat News on these pages.
It is a simple idea. In the same way that money created by fiat debases real money, news created by fiat debases real news.
Although it misinforms, fiat news should not be understood as misinformation, at least in the colloquial sense. News which contains false information or distorted interpretations of facts can be better thought of as counterfeit news. Like counterfeit money, enough counterfeit news can debase the real thing, too. Yet even considering how widespread counterfeit news has become, fiat news exists on such a massive scale that its power to debase is in a different category. Nor is fiat news synonymous with bias. We think bias represents a causal explanation for a very specific kind of recurring fiat news.
Most “media watchdogs” are in the business of identifying one of those two things: misinformation or bias. The problem with these efforts, beyond that they do not capture the full scope of actions which debase the information content of news, is that it is practically impossible to report on misinformation or bias in a manner that is itself not colored by the opinions of the author, or else designed to shape how the reader interprets facts and events. While they may in some cases offer a useful service in the face of blatant lies published through politically invested news outlets, too often they become yet another source of fiat news.
Why? Because fiat news is the presentation of opinion as fact. Fiat news is news which is designed not to provide information for the reader to process, but to provide interpretations of information for the reader to adopt. Fiat news is the primary vector for Nudging, shaping Common Knowledge, or what everybody knows everybody knows. Fiat news is how governments, parties, corporations and other institutions in a free and always connected society meticulously shape it - then tell us that it was our idea.
By design, fiat news isn't always easy to spot. Outside of editorial pages, it is rare indeed that an expression of opinion as fact would include obvious phrases like “we believe” or “we think.” Instead, media outlets guide interpretations through more subtle means that may sometimes be as invisible to the author and editor as they are to the reader.
Several years ago, we also introduced what we called The Narrative Machine.