Social Media, Fake News, and Post-Truth Age

On October 24 we ran a post regarding the rise of alt-right, anti-Semitic tweets that originated with self-identified Trump supporters and targeted Jewish journalists. An Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report noted that there is evidence that Trump contributed to the environment in which reporters were targeted, citing Trump’s references to them as “absolute scum,” and his saying, “I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true.”

The Jewish journalists were particularly frustrated that Twitter was not adequately enforcing its own policy regarding such online attacks. Twitter, it was argued, markets itself in part by claiming it has a policy that prohibits targeted abuse of users, but does not devote sufficient resources to enforcing it, with its typical response being a suspension of an account after the fact, which is then simply re-established under another name.

Now, with Stephen K. Bannon’s appointment as an adviser to President-Elect Trump, the general public is becoming more educated about the anti-Semitic, white nationalist fringe elements that now have a platform in the White House. With that knowledge has come greater scrutiny of that fringe element’s use or misuse of social media.

Back in July, Twitter took action on a targeted abuse campaign directed against actress Leslie Jones. Among the abusers was Breitbart New’s technology editor, Milo Yiannopoulous, Twitter’s statement at the time read in part:

“Our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others …. We’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension. . . .We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders.”

Over the past week Twitter has now taken action against the most vehement of the anti-Semitic, white nationalists of the alt-right for whom Stephen K. Bannon has proudly proclaimed that Breitbart is the platform. Specifically, they have suspended the accounts of Richard Spencer, recognized by many as the founder of the alt-right, and his white nationalist think tank the National Policy Institute (we discussed Spencer in an earlier post).

For the those of us at the Muckraker, more troubling than Twitter harassment is the revelation of the amount of fake news promulgated on Facebook, Google, and other online outlets. This is an emerging story whose implications are only now coming to light. It also hits close to home in Prince William County, where the Haddow-Candland cabal’s Sheriff blog has been a purveyor of fake news for political and character assassination purposes for years. These have included not only faking the existence of documents and conversations that do not exist or have never taken place, but even promoting fraudulent, forged documents as real.

Originally, Facebook attempted to downplay the presence of fake news on its platform, but soon was forced to reverse course in the face of mounting evidence about the sheer magnitude of such stories. Google and other online sources have also since felt compelled to take action.

One example of this troubling trend is revealed in the admissions of some of the purveyors of fake news. One such confessor noted that both Eric Trump and then-Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandoski tweeted links to his fake articles.

Paul Horner is one of the perpetrators of these hoaxes. An anti-Trump individual, he thought he would embarrass Trump’s supporters by exposing their belief in fake stories. The opposite happened, however. “My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time,” said Horner. “His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.” Horner explains that the way these things normally work is that someone posts something he writes, then they find out that it’s fake and they look like fools. But that didn’t happen with Trump supporters. Says Horner, “[t]hey just keep running with it!”

The problem has become pervasive on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other online sources. One study reviewed a handful of both right-wing and left-wing hyperpartisan pages and determined that 19% of the stories on the left-wing pages were a mixture of true/false or mostly false and that 38% of the stories on the right-wing pages were a mixture of true/false or mostly false. At one point the number one response to a Google search regarding election results was a fake site with fake numbers.

Facebook is trying to tackle the problem by revamping its advertising policy so that purveyors of fake news are not rewarded with advertising dollars. Critics are skeptical, however. For them the true issue is that unlike “real” professional news outlets, who devote resources to checking facts and penalizing those who slip falsehoods through the review net, online outlets like Facebook do not want to eat into their profits by devoting resources to that effort. If they are unwilling to do so, critics claim, then they should not be trying to profit from the “news” business at all.

It seems fitting in this context that “Post-truth” has been named as the word of the year for 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries. It is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”


7 comments on “Social Media, Fake News, and Post-Truth Age

  1. -

    Fake news is very close to home and not just with the Sheriff blog. One of Delegate Rich Anderson’s closest supporters who was even on his campaign staff is a birther who is not only a notorious blog troll, but who has been forwarding around fake anti-Muslim, anti-Obama news links for years. Naturally, Anderson strokes the guy all the time.

  2. -

    This is my beef with people like Al Alborn who act like blogs and social media are real journalism. They’re not. But because they have no qualms about making up sensational stuff for their own agenda, they’re able to drown out a lot of legitimate news, particularly on the local level. They can do this because their sensationalism is click-bate that generates more views than a factual headline or article will on the same subject. This pushes them up the search engine ranks until the first things people see are the more sensational, fake news. Without widespread honest media coverage of local events, the truth never has a chance.

  3. -

    The guy might be an internet troll, but he looks more like a gnome. Pitiable watching him follow Anderson around.

  4. -

    I agree with @Disgusted. Blogs and social media are more about crying out for personal attention, not facts or news.

  5. -

    All of these are important observations and they have relevance to our local, state and national politics. The Sheriff of Nottingham wants Corey Stewart to resign in order to run for governor so Pete Candland can have the opening he wants. Corey Stewart wants to tap Trump’s base in his gubernatorial campaign. Trump is using Steve Bannon as his modern equivalent of Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Silent Majority appeals.

  6. -

    Anderson is nothing less than a white nationalist himself, he is anti Muslim, anti Latino, anti black, if you aren’t a white male Baptist he is not your friend except when he is speaking to you, Two Faced Rich is his name.

  7. -

    The tide is turning. People are not willing to turn a blind eye anymore. Facebook, Twitter and Google are all actively trying to shut down false news. I am hoping they can get it right. It is truly sad that it has come to this, people are too lazy to fact check.

    Fox News and The Sheriff blog are proof how gullible people are.
    I almost feel sorry for them.

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