People share fake news — or create it — just to express themselves. In his review of Aziz Ansari’s new stand-up special, NR’s Robert Verbruggen points to a bit where Ansari invites the audience to remember the story about the pizza with toppings shaped like a swastika, and asks if they thought it was deliberate or it was just a normal pizza. The audience members take sides. The key to the joke is that the pizza story was itself made up. Fake news can be generated just because a bit of disconnected information flies across our screens, and we know how we ought to feel about it. That’s how polling institutes get Americans to decide whether they want to bomb or take refugees from Agrahbah, the fictional kingdom of Disney’s Aladdin.
But it’s not just for amusement or the satisfaction of confirmation bias that consumers welcome fake news. Humans embrace counterfeits all the time. They buy counterfeit bags and watches to create the counterfeit appearance of wealth. They settle for fake sex, and fake Internet romances. They even keep in the back of their minds that it is fake. They do it for entertainment and distraction. They do it to express themselves.
Fake news grows out of human boredom and felt powerlessness. Hillary Clinton had the power to kill, and occasionally lusted in it. “We came, we saw, he died,” she said of Colonel Qaddafi. Her preferences could be translated and acted out upon the world. Just expressing her preferences seemed to make her richer and wealthier.