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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be.”

Thomas Jefferson

There is good news on fake news.

As you doubtless know, the proliferation thereof has people fretting. President Obama has dubbed it a threat to democracy. And there is a rising demand for social-media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, often used as platforms for these viral untruths, to take corrective action.

But the good news is that anyone who wishes to avoid fake news can do so easily. There is, in fact, a news platform that specializes in gathering and disseminating non-fake news. So committed are its people to this mission that some have been known to risk, and even to lose, their lives in the process.

Granted, this platform is imperfect — sometimes it is guilty of error or even bias. But hardly ever will you find it trafficking in intentional falsehoods.

So what, you ask, is this miracle medium? Well, it’s called a “newspaper” Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Ahem.

Yes, there is a point here, and it is this: The facts are knowable — and easily so. So the proliferation of fake news should tell you something.

Before we go further, though, a definition of terms. Fake news is not to be confused with satirical news as seen on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “Last Week Tonight.” Fake news is not a humorous comment on the news. Rather, fake news seeks to supplant the news, to sway its audience into believing all sorts of untruths and conspiracy theories, the more bizarre, the better.

There is, for instance, the “story” that opponents of Donald Trump beat a homeless veteran to death. Didn’t happen.

There is also the “story” that Hillary Clinton molested children in the backroom of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Also didn’t happen.

The New York Times recently did a case study of a fake news story. It originated with Eric Tucker, a marketing executive in Austin who posted pictures of buses he claimed had been used to to transport paid protesters to an anti-Trump rally. This blew up on Facebook and Twitter. By the next day, Trump himself was tweeting about “professional protesters, incited by media.”

But this, too, didn’t happen. The buses had, in fact, been hired by a software company for a conference. Asked why he didn’t check this,Tucker told the Times, “I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there.”

Can we get a Bronx cheer right here for “citizen journalism?”

As noted above, real journalists regularly produce real news that is easily accessible. So the rise of fake news speaks not to the unavailability of the real thing, but, rather to a preference for the phony one. It is no coincidence fake news almost always seems to find greatest purchase among conservatives, or that the stories it tells almost always seem to validate their sense of their own victimhood.

But the president is right — these lies are eating like termites through the foundations of democracy, a process likely to accelerate as Obama is succeeded by one of the chief national distributors of this political manure. The right wing has led us so far down the rabbit hole of its alt-right alt-reality that we now face the very real prospect of military and policy choices hinged on things “people are saying” or tweets from those who are “too busy” to check facts.

One recalls what Jefferson said about the incompatibility of ignorance and freedom — and one wonders how long we have. Fake news drives a fake worldview. But the decisions made from that will be real.

And the consequences, too.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

IMAGE: A logo of Twitter is pictured next to the logo of Facebook in this September 23, 2014 illustration photo in Sarajevo.  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic 

29 Responses to Fake News Will Have Real Consequences

  1. 1 yr have passed since I decided to quit my old job and i couldn’t be happier now… I started working online, over a site I discovered on-line, few hrs every day, and I profit now much more than i did on my last job… Check i got for last month was for Nine thousand bucks… The best thing about this gig is that now i have more free time to spend with my family… http://chilp.it/728813e

    • The first amendment (like all of them) isn’t absolute. They can be and are abused. The Supreme Court is there to let us know where the limits are. You can’t lie about a person and be protected by the First Amendment. You can’t tell a fabricated “news” story and think it’s OK. The harm those actions cause have real and bad consequences. Rights must never be abused. We can loose them either by the new limits we put on them to correct abuse or by total elimination in order to “save” us. EVERYBODY left, right and center should be enraged that anyone would misuse our rights for their own narrow gain. The right thing to do is expose those abusers and hold them up to scorn and shame. What does harm to one persons rights, harms ALL of us even the abusers themselves.

      To have an outside actor manipulate us into doing something against our own best interests that may produce a short term gain over a long term loss should never be OK even though it may be some lame excuse because of technology like Facebook and Twitter. It’s pure BS to go ‘poor me’ while wringing our hands because it’s a right ‘oh what to do, oh what to do’. One of the jobs that media is supposed to do is expose such players and hold them to public scorn and they don’t. If it’s a nation player the light of exposure can be a solution by itself. There is absolutely NO good reason to trample the first amendment by pushing the limits to get what you want because you’ll lose what you get for yourself and the rest of us.

      Just sayin’.

      • Actually, you CAN lie about another person and be protected by the First Amendment. You may be sued for libel or slander by the person you’ve disparaged, but the government will not prosecute you for lying.

        • You are totally correct! You can lie. Nothing to stop you. It’s not the job of government to stop those who lie about another person. There are mechanisms for that job and that job of outing those who knowingly lie (always after the fact) belongs to the media from the very local to the national and to the court system through slander suits. What I said is that wrapping yourself around the first amendment doesn’t and shouldn’t protect you against intentionally malicious speech by word or action. It’s as much as a societal issue as it is a legal one. Not enough space to get into that.

          The fact that the media doesn’t do its’ job and people do allow slanderous statements to go unchallenged is another issue. On the political stage that can have us voting against our own best interests. There are many books about that let me tell ya’.

  2. Eric Tucker, cited above, is the sort of mindless irresponsible people abusing their positions to satisfy a lust for cheering on their favorite politicians. Fake news or not, all norms of decency and integrity were thrown out the window the moment Eric uttered these callous words: ” I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there.”
    So, is it OK to run out into the street to shout that some men from the moon have landed w/o checking? Is it OK to shout “Fire!” in a crowded place because you were too lazy to check if there was indeed a fire burning?

    Trump is too busy to give time to participate in foreign affairs briefings as well, on a different note—that’s something that an underling(VP Pence for instance) should attend to and take notes for Donald. And we’re still not guaranteed he’ll understand the contents.

  3. Fake news is electronic gossip. When we find a way to eliminate harmful, spiteful, or even just ignorant gossip, we’ll put a stop to it.
    In the meantime though, huge social media sources like Facebook, Google and Twitter really must do a better job of separating the corn from the cob. People will fuss about it. There may even be some free speech court tests, but they absolutely cannot back down. We do not deserve to be fed bad information any more than we deserve to be fed spoiled food. The risk of mass contagion is too great.

    • The “Free Speech” issues are going to be important.

      By what right do we restrict anyone from “speaking”?
      How does one distinguish “satirical” from “false”?
      How does one distinguish “opinion” from “news”?

      Given the current and potential SCOTUS, I don’t think there’s a path there.
      Given the Congress, I don’t think there’s a path there.
      With respect to you, Aaron, & Mr. Pitts, I just don’t see the path forward.

      • All of these sources have Terms of Service, yes?
        Incorporate the sources’ fake news limitations into these agreements. Treat fake news as pornography or death threats or any other prohibited activity is treated.

        • I still see you bouncing up against 1st Amendment problems. Even death threats have to be found to be specific and credible to be restricted, as I recall.

          Then do we make Facebook the arbiter of permissible speech? Tie in the complaints about what they did for/to China?

          • “…do we make Facebook the arbiter of permissible speech?”
            Facebook IS the arbiter of permissible speech — on Facebook. I expect they toss a number of problem users every day. Why should egregious purveyors of fake news be treated any differently than others who violate the Terms of Service?
            We are not China. Why would their internet restrictions affect US operations within the United States?
            And, of course there will be First Amendment suits by disappointed entities who earn a living from their fake news sites. If Facebook, Twitter and Google are closed to them, they’ll have to find new places to display their wares, y’know, sources that sponsor porn sites and all the other things that violate standard Terms of Service.

          • Your argument is superficially appealing.

            We know what is the truth. We know what news is fake.

            But what if Trump decides global warming is a hoax and has Facebook delete all such sites?
            What if Bannon decides the racial purity of everyone is important and publishes the racial profile of everyone, with Democrats receiving low marks?
            Let your imagination run wild.

            The tools China uses are not restricted to China. Any authoritarian government can use them. And will use them.

          • When discussing the First Amendment, one is generally oriented toward the rights of individuals. Thanks for turning the focus to potential abuses by government!
            The president could try to stifle dissemination of certain topics like global warming, but such a stark and obscene violation of First Amendment rights would ever go beyond idle talk.

          • Agreed, but since when has that stopped Trump?

            I certainly can not hold myself as having any specific knowledge, but if anyone can think of it, Trump can do it. There are no limits.

            And actually, I find myself, wishing to restrict free speech, defamation, known falsehoods, political campaigns, bribery of public officials, and more. I’m trying to work out what might be done and the specifics. Just about anything can fit under the free speech umbrella.

          • Please don’t say, “…stopped Trump.” That only incites him and drives him to new lows of harmful outrage. (Fortunately, imposing “requirements” seems to have the opposite effect.) He’s no superman; he’s just wealthy, self-absorbed and completely amoral. He is also in the process of being subsumed by a bureaucratic enormity we call federal government. It’s ten thousand times richer, eats peoples’ elevated egos for snacks, and has all the morality of a forest fire.
            In a way, Trump is the personification of fake news. Reagan really was an actor. Trump did “reality” TV. FDR and JFK had wealth beyond accurate measure. Trump has wealth beyond disclosure.
            We’ve managed to elect a fabrication.

          • Trump is more than capable of exceeding my wildest imaginings.

            49% of the people bought a con. We’ve got four years to deal with it.

          • After the made up line about “3 million illegal aliens voted,” and casting doubt on Virginia’s and other states’ elections, it’s clear that Trump is clearly out of his element. He has jumped straight into the deep, swift currents of federal government without a single swimming lesson — and there’s no rescue unless he resigns.
            Even if he does resign, we’re left with Mike Pence.
            If something bad happened to Pence, we’d be left with Paul Ryan.
            We had our chance in November and a critical number of us were not sufficiently motivated to even vote.
            So, here we are.
            In baseball, they call it a rebuilding year.

          • I’ve stated before, I’m more comfortable with Trump’s erratics than Pence’s competence.

            I would point out that I was the guy constantly telling people not to get cocky in anticipation of a Hillary victory. I also must point out that I believed the polls. I’m amused that we’re now reading the “death of the Democratic Party” stories, where a month ago, we were reading the “death of the Republican”.

            Those Republican fissures have not gone away. I’m happy to do what I can to hammer a wedge into them. The Giuliani/Romney mess is hopefully just the first.

            I’ve been saying for a while we need to build the ground level of the party. That’s where the RW money is most effective.

  4. I am blessed with one of those relatives (actually an in-law) who believes everything he reads on Facebook, and if it’s on the ‘Net, it must be true! Never bothers to look up original sources. Then he tries to send the bogus stuff to us usually with the line, “See, I told you it was true!”

    • Yup. My dad was that way because he believed that search engines — or something — filtered out the screwy stuff. He could never believe that there is no such filter.

  5. “”The right wing has led us so far down the rabbit hole of its alt-right alt-reality that we now face the very real prospect of military and policy choices hinged on things “people are saying” or tweets from those who are “too busy” to check facts.”” ???
    “”miracle medium? Well, it’s called a “newspaper”” ???

    Let’s destroy the internet news, twitter, facebook, google, et al and believe the AP (Times) that won’t slant/bias information or put out fake news. After all they are owned by a handful of people who have our best interest at heart.

    I fact check!!!

  6. “Freedom of the press is only for those who own the press” has been the rule for all of the print media where ever I have lived.
    The big difference is the dominance of infotainment over journalism. Infotainment’s goal is to capture “hits” or “visits” in order to produce revenue. Journalism “should” have presenting actual, verifiable information to inform the reader/listener.
    It is up to the reader/listener to do her/his research to come to conclusions after the critical analysis of the information.
    The problem is really two fold: the business of infotainment and the lazy consumer as opposed to the active reader/researcher.

    • I totally agree, Julius. The average reader nowadays believes everything that they read in the newspaper, on social media, etc., but they are too lazy to check the facts and just willy nilly believe everything they read no matter how ridiculous it sounds! It’s unfortunate that most of our population is getting stupider and stupider instead of more intelligent! We’re going backwards it appears!!!

      • We are going backwards — all the way back to whenever it was some people think “America” stopped being “Great”. We’re gonna “Make” it back there “Again”.
        Screw progress. The president-elect has promised to slam it in Reverse on January 20th.
        Buckle up.

  7. I quickly solved the “fake news” problem…..I turned off ALL social media totally! No one needs it actually, so why keep it! If you just get lies and BS…..it’s useless!

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