‘No White House response' from SJP’s ‘fake news’ cease and desist letter

The SPJ's satirical campaign to trademark 'fake news'

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Florida Pro Chapter is yet to hear back from the White House after it sent a cease and desist letter to Donald Trump for misusing the term 'fake news.' SPJ decided to trademark the term ‘fake news’ last week (22 October) so that it could prevent the president and others from misusing it.

The campaign featured a launch video of a journalist explaining why the group decided to trademark the term, since fake news is not actually news at all, but people trying to discredit real news.

The Drum caught up with Toronto agency Wax, which partnered with the SPJ, to ask how the efforts have been going, especially since the satirical campaign was picked up by numerous media outlets and social channels, including the national office of the SPJ. It currently has 332,000 social media shares and has been covered by Newsweek, The Hill, New York Post, CBC, CTV and Daily News, among others.

“It’s been great to see the reception – both from those in favour and against,” said Nick Asik, creative director at Wax. “That’s when you know the idea has resonated with people. At the heart of it, this is really a media literacy initiative. We’ve seen many major media outlets pick up the story as well as over 100k people sharing it on social media.

Asik said that the reaction from the public has largely taken one of three forms: "People who love the idea, people who think the idea is a stupid liberal attempt at undermining the president, and people who only read the headline of the article who say that trademarking 'fake news' will never work."

He says this last response misses "the point about the initiative being satire with the main objective being to start a discussion about the misuse of the term 'fake news.'”

So far, Asik said only one cease and desist letter has been sent, to whom he calls “the main abuser of the term” in Trump, but admitted that “we’ve received no response from the White House as of yet.” He did add however that the moment Trump misuses the term again, the next one is ready to go.

He stated that there are other misusers of the term who the SPJ may contact as well, should the trademark be approved.

A natural second phase of the campaign, said Asik, would be to take it into the election year, though there are no solid plans to extend the campaign yet. But Wax and the SPJ hope that, through the efforts of the campaign, people will start becoming more critical of the news they consume, especially by checking facts and checking sources “before blindly hitting the 'share' button”, referring people to the campaign website, which has resources on how to identify stories written with the intent to mislead readers.

“If 2016 US election was any indication, misleading stories tend to ramp up during an election year,” stated Asik.

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