From Deception to Inception: Social Media and the Changing Function of Fake News (Lessons from Egypt 2013)

Author(s) Hesham Shafick
Contact Hesham Shafick, SOAS University of London, 10 Thornhaugh St, London WC1H 0XG, UK. Email:
Issue CyberOrient, Vol. 15, Iss. 2, 2021, pp. 43-77
Published December 20, 2021
Type Article
Abstract The continued political influence of fake news despite the unprecedented accessibility of corrective information raises a pressing question: How can fake news impact publics which recognize its inveracity? Building on and developing Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s theory of “cognitive endowments,” this article unpacks the mechanisms by which news endows hypotheses, models, references, and relations that impact public assumptions of what might possibly be true, even when the news itself is perceived as false. Following from that, the article argues that the unmediated information exchange social media gave rise to might empower fake news; for although it facilitates the news’ repudiation, it also amplifies the reproduction of its endowments. This theorization is exemplified by reflecting on fake news reports, falsely referenced to CNN and BBC, about the headcount of protestors mobilized against the democratic regime in Egypt. Despite the extensive refutation of the authenticity of this news, it facilitated the political conditions for a military coup against this regime; not by positing the headcount as factual, but by setting up a politically productive controversy around it.
Keywords social media, Egypt, fake news, post-deception, cognitive endowments