To an old reporter like me, the “fake news” phenomenon is hard to take. In my day, we were so careful to check and double-check our stories. There was a a total ban on “single-source” reports, for example. If we couldn’t get a story confirmed, we didn’t publish it.
Now, with nearly half of Americans getting their news from Facebook, there is no line between reality and fiction.
You may have read on Facebook, for example, that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump and that leaked emails showed Hillary sold weapons to ISIS. Fake news stories like these were shared by millions of the site’s users.
There are dozens of people out there making up stuff to put on the internet. One example is Paul Horner, a 38-year-old fake-news impresario, who makes a living from concocting crazy stories and putting them on Facebook.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Horner explains his success this way:
Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.
How dumb is the American public?
Well, when I was in the hospital recently, a young nurse earnestly informed me that she had read an article accusing Hillary Clinton of having an affair with an under-age girl. The young nurse seemed totally convinced that the story was accurate.
And Rickie, who lives across the street from Sandra and me, breathlessly reported that the Clintons regularly visit a 72-acre island in the Caribbean to have sex with children. He said the island is owned by a registered sex offender, billionaire Jeffery Epstein, and has a statue of “the owl god” on it, presumably for pagan rituals.
Now, if you can believe these stories, you won’t have any trouble accepting the zillions of conspiracy theories spewing from the far-right noise machine. You could also accept the notion that the “mainstream media” are spreading lies and the fake news outlets are the ones telling the truth.
Facebook and other popular “social media” sites are promising to try and curb the spread of false news. But, apparently, there isn’t much they can do except restrict access to advertising dollars – when they identify which “news” is fake.
It’s a scary situation. I don’t see how democracy can survive when the Fourth Estate is so perverted. Do you?