Yes, Virginia. There is fake news
On Friday, the national news was all abuzz with the 37-page indictment alleging a group of Russians tried to influence our 2016 presidential election.
The weapon they used was “Fake News.”
This was not just another claim by a political figure lashing out at a news outlet that carried a story he/she didn’t like.
You all have heard or read them. They go something like this. “My good people, the story in the (insert the newspaper/network) that dumped a bit of mud on my coattails and pumped up my opponent is another example of “fake news.” And, in addition, the story that has my opponent ahead in the polls is also “fake news.”
The pol then goes on and on and on to tiptoe around the allegation, or change topics, or better yet, wave the flag or praise our beloved first responders, underpaid teachers, and place the blame squarely on folks from away who want to sneak into our country to steal our wives, children, jobs, and even the PB&J sandwich in our grandkid’s lunch box.
Since Sam Adams and his band of Boston-based fake Indians unloaded a cargo of tea from a British merchant ship, we have listened to our political leaders, and those who would like to become political leaders, fill our ears and brains with “fake news” designed to win them a few votes, a few campaign checks, and goodwill.
While we understand and expect our political folks to shade the truth at times, we have never seen the likes of the highly organized efforts of a foreign nation to destroy a political candidate and pump up the chances of another.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the federal probe, explained how Russians used fake news to push our hot buttons and influence our votes.
The Washington Post fleshed out some of the Mueller allegations with screen grabs of a few of these fake news posts.
One, for example, shows a trio of blue-
draped figures while proclaiming: “Like and Share if you want Burqua Banned in America. Stop the Invaders.” Note that they they misspelled Burqa.
Another showed an image of Jesus arm wrestling with Satan. The caption quotes Satan: “ If I win, Clinton wins.” Jesus replies: “Not if I can help it.”
Other fake ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube presented divisive posts by fake political organizations, while others pretended to be from ordinary American citizens.
The Mueller indictment actually quotes the email of a Russian woman who was creating some of the fake news posts.
“We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke),” she wrote to a relative. “So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues,” she added. “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”
You can look up the Mueller indictment online; it is filled with lots of legal gobble-de-gook but it is worth your time to read the allegations for yourself.
Once upon a time, when newspapers held sway, an army of line editors, copy editors, fact checkers and executives eye-balled a reporter’s story to make sure it passed muster.
In addition to the professional practices, there were, and are, laws governing libel and slander. More than one newspaper ended up in court.
Today, it is like the Wild West. It seems anyone can put or say anything on social media platforms. This includes very private photos and other outlandish charges. There seem to be few, or little, consequences attached to this type of a post.
So, gentle reader, how are we to know what is true and what is “fake news?” What do we tell our children, our grandchildren, our students?
A year ago, GQ offered a few tips. It is a good place to start.
First, read the post. Don’t just skim the headline.
Second, Look at the name of the website. If you have never heard of it before, it might be fake. If it includes the words Patriot, Freedom or Liberty stuck somewhere in the title, think twice before sharing.
Third, do a Google search of the topic. If the mainstream media outlets mention it, it might be OK. If not, well, maybe …
Fourth, does the article cite a source?
Fifth, is there an ad on the site for legit stuff? Or are they pushing stuff like fake Viagra or porn?
Lastly, don’t be gullible. Use your common sense. Remember, some folks actually believed and shared the wild post that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizza joint.