Dhaka Courier

Art against Fake News

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President of the Paris-based Association for Accountability and Internet Democracy (AAID) Dan Shefet at the exhibition, ‘Art Against Fake News’, arranged by Gallery Cosmos at Cosmos Atelier71 in Dhaka as part of the Cosmos Dialogue on ‘Fake news and hate speech; and its consequences’ at Cosmos Centre on 6 April 2019. Photo: UNB

When the Notre-Dame was engulfed in flames the whole world wept.

It was not just religious grief and despondency or esthetic emotionalism. It was “tristesse” at witnessing this jewel of artistic creativity disintegrate before our very eyes.

It touched us all profoundly. It is precisely this profundity that allows Art to speak to our conscious and unconscious minds and emotions conjointly.

Art allows our emotions to interact with rationality in inscrutable ways and exercises enormous influence over our actions, perceptions and values.

Throughout the centuries poetic license has blessed (and sometimes cursed) artists speaking out against political correctness of their time and often resorting to enigmatic expression when directed against despotic forces.

Today’s fake news scourge has become such a despotic force.

It is the consequence of modern binary values.

Answers to existential queries are left to artificial intelligence thereby elevating political correctness and conformity to such a level that it takes almost superhuman courage to disagree and “deviate” from the norm.

The yoke of “public opinion” embodied in such algorithmic values has subjugated free will.

When public opinion is stoked by fakeness. When machines enslave humanity, the risk to intellectual and cultural progress, to democracy and civilization is forbidding.

It is paradoxical that the exceptional amount of “information” generated each and every second - day and night - should foster gullibility and relegate our “esprit critique” to oblivion.

Fake news has become one of the most pervasive and eloquent examples of modern mind and sentiment control.

Even though fake news is certainly not a new phenomenon (it goes back to the beginning of mankind), it has become an ever-increasing threat to democracy and values because of the pervasiveness of social media.

Despite worldwide consensus that fake news constitutes a true threat to democracy and especially the electoral process, regulation faces hard questions such as definition and decision making. The remedies are far from consensual.

This is where Art fulfills its vital role. Art’s historic contribution to humankind has never been more decisive.

The Renaissance is a wonderful example of a revolution of values and much more so than the Industrial Revolution, which was mainly of a “technical” nature. The Renaissance is rightly revered as one of the most prosperous epochs of artistic creativity.

The Technological Revolution that we are now facing may in many respects be compared to the Renaissance in that it also champions a fundamental revolution of ideas and values.

Artists were paramount in shaping the Renaissance and the values of humanism and with the pervasiveness of modern technologically enabled manipulation Artistic exposure of fakeness is critical.

Artists express opinions in subtle ways which has allowed them to escape banishment, excommunication and death. Their subtlety may now allow them to escape harassment on social media and “social outcasting”.

Artists muster audacity, intelligence and creativity in ways that transcend disagreement and mobilize universal values.

This is how I see the artist fighting fake news.

We have all been struck by paintings, music and literature which allegorically interpret and convey sentiments in ways that words could not.

As Napoleon said, “A drawing is stronger than a thousand words.”

Just think of Picasso’s Guernica. Whatever the public discourse surrounding the civil war, this painting says it all.

Also, Solzhenitsyn’s famous novels exposing the Soviet Gulag system made a much stronger impression than debates, politics and research. It unmasked despotism and lies.

Warhol as another example demonstrating the fakeness of our consumer centric universe where goods become Gods.

No example of Art’s exposure of collective illusion or even hallucination would be complete without Andersen’s famous and poignant tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Only the little boy had retained his ability to see through fakeness and expose the nakedness of lies and manipulation.

The contribution of Art in unravelling such lies and illusions throughout history is incalculable and it is imperative that it continue in this age of social medias and fake news.

Unmasking fakeness is intrinsic to Art. Art speaks truth and helps us unshackle oppressive fabrication of deception.

Artists have never been more vital, and I salute their commitment to the protection of values and trust.

Dan Shefet, President of the Association for Accountability and Internet Democracy.

  • Art against Fake News
  • Dan Shefet
  • Vol 35
  • Issue 43
  • DhakaCourier

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