Fake news is a real problem. And it is a frightening problem. And it threatens the very fabric of our democratic republic.
Sean Hannity is the latest symptom of this problem. In fact, he might be a symptom of two serious problems – fringe media groups (in this case Fox News) parading around as (and being accepted by a large portion of our citizenry) purveyors of legitimate journalism, and the fact that these high-profile fringe sources like Fox News take information from other fringe sources which have time and time again been proven to publish false information.
CNN has been following this story, and this is how they explain the situation: “The progression of events illustrates how fake news stories expand and spread from fringe web sites to nationally syndicated radio shows with millions of listeners. In this case, the fake news originated on a dubious site called “Your News Wire,” which publishes a mix of true, slanted and made-up news. Then, like a game of telephone, by the time the story got to Hannity, even the fake facts were wrong. The site wrongly claimed that “Michelle Obama has scrubbed all references to Hillary Clinton from both of her Twitter accounts” and implied that it was the result of FBI investigations into Clinton. A thicket of far-right-wing web sites picked up the story and ran with it. Red State Watcher said the news was “breaking!” and News Ninja 2012 said it was “suspicious.” “The rats are jumping ship,” The Gateway Pundit wrote. Pro-Trump social media users tweeted about it, further amplifying the falsehood. And a contributor to a relatively credible web site, ForexLive.com, posted an item asking “Is the First Lady distancing the Obamas from the Clintons?” Then new characters were added to the fake storyline. “Elizabeth Warren just unfollowed Hillary, and Michelle Obama deleted all her tweets about Hillary,” Jack Posobiec, who calls himself a “recovering political operative,” tweeted at 2 p.m. Tuesday. He kept going, adding President Obama’s name to the list, without any evidence to back it up. President Obama’s @POTUS timeline includes recent tweets like “Couldn’t be more proud of @HillaryClinton.” By 4 p.m., the made-up claims were on “The Sean Hannity Show.”
Hannity later published a correction and a half-baked attempt at an apology. But the damage had already been done.
Folks, The very fabric of our nation depends upon an intelligent, educated, and informed electorate. I think we all can say that we are sick and damn tired of logging on to Facebook only to see fake, inflammatory story after fake, inflammatory story. The purpose is to appeal to the angry sensitivities of people who believe those who are different aren’t worth having a conversation with. And you can see how our ability to talk to one anther in an meaningful way – much less have an amicable presidential debate – has rapidly deteriorated.
Do I think “fake news” will decide this election? I don’t know. I can’t honestly answer that question. And yet I feel very strongly that there is a large boulder that is rolling down and ever-steeper hill, gaining momentum, speed, and force as it goes. Is it you right to read fake news? Yes. Is it your right to watch Fox News, or whatever your fringe site might be? Yes. Is it your responsibility as an American citizen to dig a little bit deeper if it means the difference between being informed and being ignorant?