Earlier this month I went on a rant about the effects of faux news, Faux News Runs Amok, when a man who believed a fake news story claiming that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were hiding kidnapped children in tunnels beneath a D.C. pizza restaurant, entered the restaurant and began shooting. It is bad enough that ordinary citizens, perhaps not possessed of the highest level of intelligence, buy into the falsities found on social media, but the potential for disaster on a global scale is highlighted by the following story from The Guardian:
The headline of the fake news story read:
“Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack”.
The story appeared on 20 December on the site AWD News, which has been identified by fact-checking organizations as a fake news site. It would seem that anybody who read the entire story and who was even moderately savvy about world events would have known it to be fake, as the article mis-identified Moshe Ya’alon as the Israeli defense minister, though he actually resigned in May, changed the title of a senior official from the Pakistan government and was dotted with grammatical errors and strange syntax. However, apparently Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Mohammad Asif, believed the story to be true and responded on Twitter with a warning to Israel:
“Khawaja M. Asif ✔ @KhawajaMAsif
Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh.Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH
1:51 PM – 23 Dec 2016”
Israel’s defense ministry responded the next day, also on Twitter, saying the original story was “totally fictitious” and the quote had been invented.
“Ministry of Defense @Israel_MOD
@KhawajaMAsif The statement attributed to fmr Def Min Yaalon re Pakistan was never said
Ministry of Defense @Israel_MOD
@KhawajaMAsif reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false
9:14 AM – 24 Dec 2016”
A few observations from Filosofa:
- I thought Trump was the only fool who considers Twitter an acceptable venue for communicating serious world events and foreign policy. Apparently I was wrong, but frankly I think it is a highly inappropriate way to discuss sensitive issues that could, at the drop of a hat, lead to war!
- Would you not think that men who have risen to such a high level, a position of trust and respect, would be smart enough to discern fact from fiction, or at least check it out before spouting a response?
The dispute between the Pakistani and Israeli defense ministers is just an example of what could happen. Use your imaginations to take it a step further and you will quickly see why I continue to rant about faux news sites and those who are foolish enough to believe what they read on social media.
Political faux news is not confined to the U.S., either.
- The German political mainstream is getting increasingly nervous about the effect that the rise of fake news might have on federal elections next autumn. Fake news and Russian interference – either by influencing fake news sites, or by hacking or misinformation – are viewed as a serious threat to the democratic process, particularly since the US presidential elections. From rumours that Merkel was in the east German secret police, the Stasi, to others suggesting she is Adolf Hitler’s daughter, Germans are also proving themselves susceptible to false information.
- Samuel Laurent, head of Le Monde’s fact-checking section, Les décodeurs, said: “In France, there isn’t a wide presence of totally invented fake news that makes money through advertising, as seen in the US.” But he said France was seeing increasing cases of manipulation and distortion, particularly during election periods. One example, in the recent primary race to choose the French right’s presidential candidate, was a campaign on the fachosphère (alternative, far-right sites) to claim the centre-right candidate Alain Juppé was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
- After decades of isolation under successive military regimes, Myanmar’s 51 million people began to come online rapidly in 2014 after telecoms reforms. Amid a barrage of updates from staunchly Facebook-first media organizations, news feeds are crammed with fake content. Much of it is tinged with religious hatred. With tensions between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim populations running high, many are ready to believe vitriolic nonsense about Islam and its followers, often propagated by nationalist accounts set up for the purpose.
- In Italy, the spread of propaganda has become such a worry for the government that a top official in prime minister Matteo Renzi’s circle of advisers recently filed a defamation complaint against a mystery Twitter account – it has since disappeared – who tweeted under the name “Beatrice di Maio” and routinely took aim at Renzi’s government. In one example, the Twitter account showed a picture of Elena Boschi, the reform minister, on the phone. It suggested she was sharing insider information with her father, who was a top executive at Banca Etruria, a Tuscan bank.
These are just a few examples … China, Brazil, India, Australia and other nations are seeing an escalation in faux news and its dangers.
The next time you are tempted to share a Facebook meme or a Twitter tweet, ask yourself a few questions first: Does it really make sense that the sock lint between Trump’s toes harbors a secret biological warfare weapon he plans to release against liberal bloggers? Is it true that cut onions cause lethal poisoning? Is Betty White really related to the Queen of England? Can I easily check this out on one of the fact-checker sites? And finally, do I really want to look like a fool for sharing this?
In the old days, people picked up a newspaper to get their news. Now, they go to Facebook. The solution to the serious problem of faux news, at least here in the U.S., will have to come mainly from We The People, as any government interference would be seen as an abridgement of the 1st Amendment. Before you share some meme or other information, make sure it is accurate and true. If it is not, write a comment and include a link to the fact-checker that proves the falsity. We must be diligent in calling out fake news, for it carries a high potential for danger to us all. Below I have included links to what I consider to be the top fact-checkers on the internet:
Certainly there are others, but these are the ones I have found to be quite reliable.
Interestingly, in this day where fake news seems to be running rampant, the fact checkers’ range and readership has increased dramatically during the past year’s election season. Oh, and while I’m on the subject … no, Wal-Mart is not going to give you $500 just for ‘liking’ their page, and Dell did not manufacture too many computers that they will give to the first 500 responders!
Some may think those “news stories” and stupid memes they see on social media are funny and harmless, but when you think about what happened at Cosmic Ping Pong pizza restaurant, and think about the potential ramifications of the Twitter exchange between Pakistani and Israeli defense ministers, I think it becomes clear that these stories are anything but harmless. Companies like Facebook are finally starting to wake up and are pledging to take the issue more seriously and do what is in their power to stop the proliferation of faux news, but at the end of the day, it is up to all of us to do our part. It is not merely our option, it is our responsibility! Rights are contingent upon being used wisely, and freedom of speech requires that we use it responsibly and conscientiously. If you want news, go to a legitimate media outlet. And please, share responsibly!