Obliviate! – shouted Gilderoy Lockhart, a character from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when he wanted to delete someone’s memories to usurp their achievements. It seems, however, that he needn’t have bothered, since there is an even more dangerous magic than this spell to help disperse lies.
The world of Harry Potter can easily serve as an interesting case study of telerance, student activism, and even politics or economics. There is another relevant lesson in the books, however: the dark magic of fake news.
Readers are introduced to the concept in the 4th volume, when the scathing journalist, Rita Skeeter distorts the truth to give people what they want and to take revenge on people who got on her wrong side. Harry Potter is depicted by her as a dangerous lunatic in a bid to discredit him. She is stopped at the end of the book, but not before she succeded in creating a false image of the eponymous character, which develops even further in the next book, when the inept Ministry of Magic doesn’t want to face the fact that the most evil wizard the world, Voldemort, has retunred.
Since Harry is the only witness to the reemergence of the Dark Lord, the Ministry, lead by the Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge (who finds it more convenient not to believe the young wizard) goes out of it’s way to spew out fake news. To do so it uses the seemingly independent the Daily Prophet newspaper. Since most people believe the Ministry propaganda, and the Minister for Magic does nothing to prepare for Voldemort’s inevitable attempt to regain lost power, all the Dark Lord has to do is wait, while the wizarding community weakens itself by arguing. By the time the truth is revealed, it is too late, and Voldemort soon seizes power. If it wern’t for student activism, he would never have been defeated, but that is a different story.
The purpose of fake news is to undermine somebody’s or something’s credibility, for example of a leader, or a system. They play on stories people find easy or convenient to believe in, and occasionally are spiced with slivers of truths, which even further muddies the waters and makes it close to impossible to discern the facts from fiction.
Harry Potter suffered from visions in the books, which the media spun as a sign of madness. Fake news are like religion, you must believe in them despite all common sense and evidence to the contrary. Like any radical religion, it must be protected at all costs. And so, in the fifth volume, Dolores Umbridge made Harry write lines, etching them into his own skin, saying: “I must not tell lies”.
When it finally turned out that Harry was, in fact, telling the truth, the Ministry lost it’s credibility, which they wanted to regain by recruiting the young wizard, who, after all the harassment he went through refused to cooperate with the inept institution. Thus Voldermort attained his goal, and by successfully sawing discord, weakened the resistance of the wizarding community.
Let us imagine that there is a magical land called Russia, and there is no Voldemort, but an evil leader, named Putin. Let’s say, there is no Ministry of Magic, no Harry Potter, and no magic at all. There are, however, many Ministers in many countries, many Fudges and Umbridges, and a multitude of fake news sawing discord among people, all serving the evil Purposes of the Dark Lord Putin. Which side would you like to find yourself on?