Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Danger of Fake News

I just spent a weekend with some old high school friends, and there were a few Trump voters in the bunch. When we discussed the issues, I heard a lot of "fake news" coming out of them--which they didn't even realize they had consumed from "fake news" sources. I suspect that despite my pointing this out to them, they didn't exactly retrace their steps to discover whether or not I was right, but at least I tried to point them in the right direction.

This story in the Washington Post (a real news source) is a good example of why it's important to point it out whenever possible. A guy went to a pizza place in Washington with a gun, because he had read a fake news story (which had been shared millions of times) saying that the pizza chain (owned by a Clinton supporter) was actually a front for a child sex ring.

You'd think this one would have been obvious (really? A child sex ring?), but it points out a larger issue.

My high school friends weren't believing stories that crazy, but they were believing stories about what those infamous e-mails contained (Benghazi smoking guns--um no), and who they were sent to (all sorts of people not cleared to receive them--um no), special deals made by the Clinton Foundation (Hillary wasn't changing our foreign policy for personal gain, sorry), the lack of evidence the Russians were involved in Wikileaks (alternate theories that were not at all in line with what the intelligence professionals were uniformly saying), and that Hillary had an unhinged violent streak (she went crazy on election night--um no). My friends didn't make up these stories. They read them, just like I read stories in places like the Washington Post or the New York Times.

And they believe, and cannot be convinced otherwise, that those sources are just as legit as the most legit news sources we have in this country, because the mainstream media is biased. These are smart guys who believe this. And they won't take it from somebody who worked in the media or has written books about the media that required years and years of research. They know that I'm left-leaning myself, so obviously, I can't be trusted either. They think I'm in a bubble, and that I'm the one who isn't hearing the real news.

For the last ten years on this blog, I've been pointing out the danger of having news networks that openly cheer or root against one political party. Both sides have one now. But even Fox News and MSNBC at least have a basis in truth for their stories. They may be slanted one way or the other, or they may be underreporting (or not reporting at all) stories that interfere with the narrative their viewers wish were true (and that's bad enough), but they aren't making things up out of whole cloth.

This is new. This is like giving those e-mails that are forwarded from crazy uncle to crazy uncle the same consideration as stories from journalists who have to cultivate sources and reconfirm those stories with additional sources, and then have editors and sometimes attornies pore over every word to make sure it's correct (or as correct as it can possibly be).

It's gonna get worse before it gets better. Our president-elect and several members of his staff read the fake news and believe it. They retweet it.

That's what's so dangerous about this new phenomenon. The political bubbles were formed over these past ten years, but they can only be popped from the inside.

And no one is even trying to pop them anymore.

LATE UPDATE: Here's something from the AP today that further illustrates my point...

A trending story that claims Hillary Clinton won a total of 57 counties in the presidential election is untrue.

The Associated Press finds that Clinton won 487 counties nationwide, compared with 2,626 for President-elect Donald Trump.

The story appeared on several viral content sites that cater to some of Trump's supporters.

LATER UPDATE: Here's someone who agrees with me: CNN's Brian Stelter