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All the Fake News Unfit to Print

Sam Sokol

The claim that Donald Trump pushed fake news to aid his election to the White House has put the nefarious practice front and center

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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Photo: Shutterstock

W

hat is fake news?

 While in recent months many political pundits have latched on to the concept of fake news to delegitimize opposing viewpoints, in essence what fake news means is “reporting” that intentionally misleads or, very often, completely fabricates events, quotes, and statistics for partisan reasons.

Why is this a problem and how is it any different from newspapers that practice yellow journalism?

Americans’ increasing disillusionment with the mainstream press coupled with their growing tendency to get their news on social networks means that alternate news outlets are gaining market share at an alarming rate. Most people do not read articles fully before sharing and we are, by nature, more credulous of material shared by friends and family. Certainly, living in social media “echo chambers” in which our views are constantly reinforced, coupled with historically high levels of political partisanship, hasn’t helped things.

Did fake news really swing the election as Hillary Clinton supporters claim?

Nobody knows just how big a role fake news played, but it certainly helped to create an atmosphere that was not conducive to an open political dialogue, exacerbating existing rifts and radicalizing people on both sides of the spectrum. According to a recent study undertaken by Ipsos on behalf of BuzzFeed News, 75% of Americans believe fake news stories, while hyper-partisan web pages such as Occupy Democrats and Right Wing News consistently outperformed credible media outlets during the election season.

 

But at least politicians have good sources of news, right?

Not always, unfortunately. The New York Times recently reported on several instances of members of the Trump transition team sharing or believing fake news stories. Team members such as Monica Crowley have accused Hillary Clinton of murdering a former party staffer while both incoming National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and his son, who was fired from team Trump, have both shared information about PizzaGate on social networks. Trump himself has shared false statistics about millions of illegal aliens voting.

And while the Clinton campaign has not been implicated in sharing fake news, many voters on the left have pushed fabricated stories, such as reports that Trump would ban Muslims from the military or that the Russians had rigged online polls in favor of the Republican candidate.

What is this PizzaGate thing we’ve been hearing about?

PizzaGate, a bizarre and unsubstantiated online conspiracy theory that has become popular among critics of Hillary Clinton, charges that high-ranking members of the Democratic party would regularly gather at the Comet, a Washington D.C. pizzeria as part of an underground child-abuse ring. The rumors, which gained steam on Internet message boards and were shared by fake news sites, almost turned tragic when Edgar Welch, an Internet conspiracy aficionado, drove up from North Carolina to Washington with an assault rifle in order to “self-investigate” the reports he read online. While nobody was killed in the incident, it clearly illustrated the dangers of fake news in the Internet age.

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