Of all the things that have come along with the campaign and Presidency of Donald Trump – gah, every time I say President Trump I feel my blood pressure rise – the most egregious in my opinion is the proliferation of fake news.
Fake news has always been around. Tabloids are full of it. Some countries deal in it but we call it propaganda. Now there’s an American President (there goes my blood pressure again) who uses his own definition of fake news and people, by the millions, believe him. It’s dangerous to real news and those who have the integrity and tenacity to seek the truth.
But the real problem, as I see it, are the gullible masses who believe everything they read if it fits their world view. Ergo my latest column in our London: The Fake News Fiasco.
If you believed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once declared that he is “the next Nelson Mandela”, that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump or that the US Democratic Party paid people to disrupt Republican Trump’s pre-election rallies, you’ve been had. All of those stories were fake news, widely distributed on social media, while the proof that they were made up attracted only limited attention. Barack Obama didn’t cruise gay bath houses under the pseudonym Barry. ISIS leaders didn’t call on American Muslim voters to support Hillary Clinton. Police didn’t find more than a dozen bodies of white women with Black Lives Matter carved into their skin. Fake, fake, fake. These and many other bogus articles took off like the old Faberge Organics shampoo commercial: they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on.
Paul Horner, arguably the most notorious known U.S. purveyor of fake news via the News Examiner and other websites, once claimed that his stories were responsible for Trump’s election. But Horner, who died recently at age 38 of a suspected accidental overdose, was trying to keep Trump from getting to the White House. He defended his writing as political satire with an aim of educating Conservatives about their gullibility. His greatest hits included that Barack Obama was a practicing Muslim (False: he is a devout Christian) and the expose of a rape festival in India (complete fabrication). Some people will still dig in for a fight when challenged on these disproven tales. Then again, the Flat Earth Society has thousands of members so not everyone’s in line for an invitation to join Mensa, but conspiracy theorists are a topic for another day.
It takes a little effort to go beyond the headline and determine whether or not a story is true. It could appear as a paid link on a legitimate website. The American President also muddies the waters every time he cries “fake” about any story that’s critical of him. Disliking an article doesn’t automatically make it false just as liking it isn’t enough to make it accurate.
Sometimes fake news is satire posted without a disclaimer. Dozens of websites appear legit until you notice their URL imitates a well-known news source by altering a few letters. Loads of so-called health-news is also false, much of it involving supposed cures for (insert health crisis here) that the “government doesn’t want you to know”. Another clue to fake news is when it’s click-bait and you have to click on page after page to get all the details. At the other end they’re charging advertisers per page click and thanking you for filling their bank account.
Unless it’s an exclusive, an authentic bombshell will eventually be confirmed by virtually every genuine news organization. If a shocking development never migrates from one fringe website onto legitimate news sources, you’ve been duped. If it’s a total eyebrow-raiser that “mainstream media refuses to report!” stop sharing it, you look foolish. Mainstream media will have checked it out and found it wanting. They’ll review its validity with snopes.com. Some say everyone’s a journalist now in the age of social media but I disagree. Journalists apply fact-checking, ethics and critical thinking before they share a story.