Egypt’s fake news the product of citizens’ fake lives
In a recent announcement, President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi revealed that the Egyptian state has had to deal with more than 20,000 rumors in the course of the past three months. The fake news phenomenon that seriously disturbs the Egyptian state is a tool that is also used by the state — it prods Egyptians to live a fake life, to which each citizen contributes and which results in demoralizing the entire society.
In Egypt, the magnitude and widespread use of rumors is a cultural trait that is equally endorsed by both our government and our people. We Egyptians genuinely enjoy exaggerated narratives and rumors; we circulate them amongst ourselves, each citizen adding an extra embellishment. Many of the circulated stories may actually be based on fact, but they end up in the form of wild fictional narratives that provide greater enjoyment to citizens.
The dilemma in Egypt is that we don’t only produce fake news; we also have a fake living reality, in which fake news functions as a communication tool. The fake reality that we live by produces many misunderstandings and inaccuracies, such as false hopes, misinterpretation of facts, and endorsement of fantasia — the negative impact of some of which is far greater than that of fake news. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government is happy to maintain a false narrative that endorses its propositions and tends to only complain about viewpoints that are critical of it.
The Egyptian state believes that it can deal with fake news by assigning a hotline for citizens to use to inquire about the truth and to check the accuracy of any circulated narratives — a scheme that could be successful in a “fully fledged society,” but not in Egypt, where citizens enjoy inflated stories. The hotline solution illustrates how the state tends to tackle its challenges by focusing on the symptoms while ignoring the causes. Opting to address these causes would strengthen citizens’ trust in the government, which is currently sorely lacking.
We Egyptians genuinely enjoy exaggerated narratives and rumors; we circulate them amongst ourselves, each citizen adding an extra embellishment
Egyptians are presently living in a polarized country, where fake news is the only tool available to the conflicting parties. The government tends to exaggerate its achievements with the aim of bolstering citizens’ attachment to their country, while opposition forces are unable to play any role in the development of their country other than to criticize the government and create counter fake stories. Sadly, and to the detriment of genuine national progress, fake news is the only popular product of both groups.
The Egyptian state also believes that fake news is a fundamental component of what it often describes as the “electronic war” being waged on Egypt by a number of regional nations. Nations that harbor political disagreements with Egypt probably do exert efforts and allocate some funds to expand this kind of battle; however, they do so by capitalizing on and fueling our already existing sociopolitical dynamic, which they did not create. Additionally, Egypt, with its large population and its love of rumors, could easily use the same tool to counter-attack its rivals.
We are not a nation that knows how to employ citizens constructively in projects that consume their energy and maximize our national revenue. We don’t work on changing governments to give critics the opportunity to assume power and either prove to be successful or confront their failures. As a result, we are left with a single tool: Creating and spreading fake news — the “phony reality” that we Egyptians have articulated and whose consequences we must bear.
The Egyptian state is certainly facing many complicated challenges that distance citizens from reality; unintentionally in some cases, by design in many others. Expanding our phony style of living will not resolve our present economic difficulties. The best method for dealing with fake news is to genuinely engage Egyptian citizens in their country’s national challenges. Only by confronting the living reality openly and directly will Egypt be able to reduce the impact of fake news.
- Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir