Speaking in Germany Thursday, President Obama slammed the proliferation of fake news on social media, saying:
"If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not--and particularly in an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in sound bites and snippets off their phones. If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems...
In an age where there's so much active misinformation, and it's packaged very well...If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. We won’t know what to fight for. And we can lose so much of what we’ve gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market-based economies and prosperity that we’ve come to take for granted."
In an increasingly frantic search for a scapegoat on which to pin Hillary Clinton's loss, some Democratic politicians, as well as those in the mainstream press, have most recently landed on "fake news." They say the high volume of slickly designed fake news stories on social media led to many people being deceived this election cycle. They point to a study done by BuzzFeed as proof:
"[During the final months of the campaign] 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook...Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook."
BuzzFeed goes on to note that "of the 20 top-performing false election stories identified in the analysis, all but three were overtly pro-Donald Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton."
Here are five reasons the "fake news" excuse isn't going to stick:
1. What is Fake News?
Over the course of the election, there were indeed numerous fake news stories that popped up on social media feeds. They were often shared, commented on, and liked by partisans who identified with the candidate the story favored over the candidate the story attacked.
The problem going forward is this: Who decides what is and is not "fake news?" There are clear examples in which particular stories being circulated are patently false. They often feature manufactured quotes, and blatant, identifiable lies. On the other hand, there are stories that, while not unbiased in coverage, are not false. These stories can come from sites like The Huffington Post, Salon, Breitbart, or The Gateway Pundit. They may contain definable biases, but they cannot be labeled "fake."
Following the election, assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College, Melissa Zimdars, compiled a list of "fake news" sites to avoid. The list included satirical sites like The Onion and Clickhole alongside legitimate sites, including Daily Wire. Yes, Daily Wire is listed as a suspect website, according to Zimdars.
She clarifies that "not all of these sources are always or inherently problematic, neither are all of them fake or false...They should be considered in conjunction with other news/info sources due to their tendency to rely on clickbait headlines or Facebook descriptions, etc."
Zimdars goes on to offer pointers as to how one can avoid misleading news, such as verifying stories with other sources, and looking to the "About Us" tab on the website from which you got a story. These aren't bad things to do. In fact, they're what everyone should do.
However, the question remains: Who decides what is and is not fake or misleading?
In the case of social media, that would be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other large platforms. If these websites intend to purge their feeds of alleged fake news, it will be those at the helm who have the final say regarding what constitutes "fake." This is dangerous. Recent reports have suggested that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have all partaken in the censoring of conservative opinion in the past.
As an example, YouTube recently put numerous Prager University videos under the "restricted" category. Prager University releases short videos each week; these videos are usually narrated by college professors, experts in their field, or public figures, and they deal with many political and social issues. Despite being inoffensive and grounded in facts or informed opinion, the videos are being censored.
If the leaders of these social media platforms are the ones deciding what is and is not "fake," or what should and should not be "restricted," we're entering perilous territory.
2. The Mainstream Media Revels in Fake News
Fake news is also pushed by mainstream outlets, they're just more clever about its presentation. Here are four examples.
NBC Deceptively Edits 911 Call:
NBC doctored George Zimmerman's 911 tape to make it look like he was a racist. In the original 911 call made by George Zimmerman the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the exchange was as follows:
DISPATCHER: "Sanford Police Department."
ZIMMERMAN: "Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, it’s Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about."
DISPATCHER: "OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?"
ZIMMERMAN: "He looks black."
NBC edited the audio to make it seem like Zimmerman offered Martin's race unprompted, and that he associated his race with bad behavior:
ZIMMERMAN: "He looks like he’s up to no good; he looks black."
PJTV does a great job of showcasing NBC's deliberately deceptive editing in this video:
CNN Hears A "Racial Slur":
CNN accused George Zimmerman of calling Martin a "f****** coon" in the 911 call. It was later revealed with the help of a forensic audio expert that he said "cold," not "coon."
Business Insider reports:
"In the end, [Gary] Tuchman, the audio expert, and special guest host Wolf Blitzer — who was filling in for Anderson Cooper — all agreed that the word in question was 'cold,' not the racial slur."
CNN Edits Out "Take That Sh** to The Suburbs":
Following the shooting of an armed, African America man named Sylville Smith by an African American police officer, Milwaukee erupted into riots. During a segment on the riots, CNN showcased Smith's sister allegedly "calling for peace," saying: "Don't bring the violence here, and the ignorance here." The network conveniently left out the rest of what Sherelle Smith had to say:
"Burning down s*** ain't gonna help nothing! Y'all burning down s*** we need in our community! Take that sh** to the suburbs...Y'all wanna hurt somebody? Take that sh** farther out!"
Western Journalism put together a great comparison piece:
Not to belabor the point, but here are two more examples of the media misleading Americans in order to fit their narrative: Katie Couric is facing a $12 million defamation lawsuit over her award-winning gun control documentary, Under The Gun, in which a misleading edit makes it appear as though members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League were clueless. There's also the Rolling Stone UVA rape hoax, in which reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely simply refused to check sources and question the stoyr of the alleged victim of a "frat house" gang rape. The story publicly unraveled, destroying the reputations of multiple people in the process.
3. Hillary Clinton Was a Deeply Flawed Candidate
If there's anyone to blame for Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump, it's Hillary Clinton herself. The media didn't force Hillary Clinton to lie to the American people multiple times regarding her private, unsecured, national security-jeopardizing email server; the media didn't force Clinton to lie to the American people about the cause of the Benghazi attack when she privately told her daughter and others the real cause; the media didn't force Clinton to intervene in Libya; the media didn't force Clinton to push for the arming of Syrian rebels; the media didn't force Clinton to embolden Russia's ambitions with a ridiculous foreign policy "reset"; and the media didn't force Clinton to tell seemingly endless lies, including embarrassingly constructed ones like "landing under sniper fire" in Bosnia.
Millions of Democrats who voted for Barack Obama didn't come out for Hillary Clinton. That's why she lost.
4. What About Personal Responsibility?
All the talk of fake news roiling the Left mirrors the Democratic belief system that when in doubt, a higher power (the government, or in this case, social media giants) should regulate our problems away. Nowhere has there been talk of personal responsibility when it comes to news.
As Americans, we have the responsibility to discern what is and is not false reporting. People on both sides of the political divide have been fooled by ridiculously obvious fake news. It shouldn't be the prerogative of Facebook or YouTube to tell us what to read and what not to read. If we're dim-witted enough to fall for fake news, if we're so stupid that we don't have the ability to know that a story like "Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS" is false by checking multiple sources and employing some discernment, that's on us.
We have the world at our fingertips, yet some people willingly buy into fake news because it suits their personal agenda. Facebook and YouTube censorship won't stop that. Moreover, such censorship leads us down dangerous paths.
Who decides what constitutes a fake story? Those in power. If those in power are adamantly against conservative ideology, they will begin to label "fake" whatever runs contrary to their worldview. From there, it's a hop, skip, and a jump to 1984.