• Daniel Mollenkamp

Fake News and Gabon/ RE: Radiolab story

An episode from Radiolab, produced by Simon Adler, was sent to me because of its content. It is very much worth a listen for the dilemma it raises. If this podcast were a screenplay, the logline would probably read like this: 

A group of emigres living in America finds themselves the de facto news source of the oppressed people of Gabon. When an opportunity presents itself after a stolen election, they must choose to stick to the facts or to fight misinformation and oppression with dubious claims in an effort to inspire a revolution.

If you have a moment listen to the episode and comment with whether you think they were justified in their actions. My take is plastered below the summary.

"Breaking Bongo" from Radiolab:

"Deep fake videos have the potential to make it impossible to sort fact from fiction. And some have argued that this blackhole of doubt will eventually send truth itself into a death spiral. But a series of recent events in the small African nation of Gabon suggest it's already happening. Today, we follow a ragtag group of freedom fighters as they troll Gabon's president - Ali Bongo - from afar. Using tweets, videos and the uncertainty they can carry, these insurgents test the limits of using truth to create political change and, confusingly, force us to ask: Can fake news be used for good?"

Here's my flash take: It'd be hard for me to take the activist's side regardless of whether I buy their argument that they're justified in lying. Either I don't buy their argument and they betrayed their journalistic charge: meaning that the folks back home really can't trust them as a source of info. Or if I buy their argument, they made a tactically stupid decision to misrepresent a situation they had no control over. If I was living in the country I'd think 'ok. If they'd abuse my trust before coming to power in order to tempt me to risk my neck for their political agenda, then what would they do if the president is removed and they come to power?' Obviously, the president should be forced from power, but you have to be careful that you aren't deposing one autocrat to make way for another. Also, the real issue is likely not the president but the military which is keeping him in power. Do we expect them to be OK with civilian democratic rule because of a little protesting? Ask Sudan or Egypt how well that's working. The diaspora should have simply reported that his condition was unknown. They still could've made a strong case for revolt without the unnecessary risk of discrediting themselves.


Daniel Mollenkamp

Journalist and researcher (US)




* Originally written for Leader's Expedition (LEx) about four months ago

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