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Fake News

As the campaign progressed, criticism of Mr. Trump was instantly projected back at his opponent, or at the critics themselves. “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet.”

This tactic was used on the language of social justice, which was appropriated by opponents and redeployed nihilistically, in an open effort to sap its power while simultaneously taking advantage of what power it retained. Anti-racists were cast as the real racists. Progressives were cast as secretly regressive on their own terms. This was not a new tactic, but it was newly effective. It didn’t matter that its targets knew that it was a bad-faith maneuver, a clear bid for power rather than an attempt to engage or reason.

- John Herrman, Fixation on Fake News Overshadows Waning Trust in Real Reporting, NYT, Nov. 18, 2016


Friday night, the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg went on his vast social network to convince an expanding chorus of critics — including the departing president of the United States — that he honest-to-goodness wants to combat the “fake news” that is running wild across his site and others, and turning our politics into a paranoiac fantasy come to life. ...
The national security adviser Mr. Trump named last week, Michael T. Flynn, ... recently used Twitter to circulate a fake news item that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was sitting on evidence from Anthony Weiner’s laptop that would “put Hillary and her crew away for life.” ...
Add to that the fact that Mr. Trump was the most prominent promoter of the false notion that President Obama wasn’t born here, and didn’t hesitate to repeat the outrageous suggestion that the father of Senator Ted Cruz was linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. ...
President Obama... told reporters in Germany on Thursday, “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not,” and “if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.” ...
Today’s fake news is limited only by the imaginations of its inventors and the number of shares it can garner on Facebook or Twitter.

(To wit: The one million shares of the preposterous notion that Mrs. Clinton secretly sold weapons to ISIS. BuzzFeed News — which has excelled at illuminating the fake news problem — highlighted that example in its alarming analysis showing that during the campaign cycle fake news was shared among Facebook users more often than real news was.)
- Jim Rutenberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook Must Defend the Truth, NYT, Nov. 20, 2016


But under its glittering surface, Dallas has a problem that could bring it to its knees....
What is happening in Dallas is an extreme example of what’s happening in many other places around the country. Elected officials promised workers solid pensions years ago, on the basis of wishful thinking rather than realistic expectations. Dallas’s troubles have become more urgent because its plan rules let some retirees take big withdrawals. ...
To many in Dallas, the hole in the pension fund seems to have blown open overnight. But in fact, the fuse was lit back in 1993, when state lawmakers sweetened police and firefighter pensions beyond the wildest dreams of the typical Dallas resident. ...
Guaranteed 8.5 percent interest, on tap indefinitely for thousands of people, would of course cost a fortune. But state lawmakers made it look “cost neutral,” records show, by fixing Dallas's annual pension contributions at 36 percent of the police and firefighters’ payroll. It would all work as long as the payroll grew by 5 percent every year — which it did not — and if the pension fund earned 9 percent annually on its investments. ...
“We all know some of the benefits, guaranteed, were just probably never realistic,” he [State Senator John Whitmire] said.
- Mary Walsh, Dallas Stares Down a Texas-Size Threat of Bankruptcy, NYT, Nov. 20, 2016


If his pro-Clinton site had taken off, he said, he would have pressed on with that, but “people did not engage,” so he focused on serving pro-Trump supporters instead. They, he quickly realized, were a far more receptive audience “because they are angry” and eager to read outrageous tales.

“For me, this is all about income, nothing more,” he added.

The income comes mostly from Google, which pays a few cents each time a reader sees or clicks on advertisements embedded in one of Mr. Latsabidze’s websites. His best month, which coincided with the hit bogus story about Mexico closing the border, brought in around $6,000, though monthly revenue is usually much lower.
- Andrew Higgins, Mike McIntire, and Gabriel Dance, Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: ‘This Is All About Income’, Nov. 25, 2016


A recent study [Ipsos/BuzzFeed Poll - Fake News] found that most people who read fabricated stories on Facebook — such as a widely circulated hoax about Pope Francis endorsing Mr. Trump — were inclined to believe them.
- Mike McIntire, How a Putin Fan Overseas Pushed Pro-Trump Propaganda to Americans, NYT, Dec. 17, 2016
- Ipsos/BuzzFeed Poll - Fake News, Ipsos, Dec. 6, 2016


In fact, kompromat is more than an individual piece of damaging information: It is a broader attempt to manufacture public cynicism and confusion in ways that target not just one individual but an entire society. ...

Specific leaks may take aim at powerful individuals, but in the longer term, kompromat serves the interests of the powerful, which is why it is often a tool of autocrats. By eroding the very idea of a shared reality, and by spreading apathy and confusion among a public that learns to distrust leaders and institutions alike, kompromat undermines a society’s ability to hold the powerful to account and ensure the proper functioning of government.
- Amanda Taub, ‘Kompromat’ and the Danger of Doubt and Confusion in a Democracy, NYT, Jan. 15, 2017


It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He was hearing “more and more” about evidence of rigging, he added, leaving the details to his supporters’ imagination.

A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious art just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.

Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.

“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click.
- SCOTT SHANE, From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece, NYT, JAN. 18, 2017



President Trump, reading his news conference presentation:

I’m making this presentation directly to the American people, with the media present, which is an honor to have you. This morning, because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve. And I hope going forward we can be a little bit — a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that’s possible. Maybe it’s not, and that’s OK, too.
Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.
'I ran for president to present the citizens of our country. I am here to change the broken system so it serves their families and their communities well. I am talking — and really talking on this very entrenched power structure, and what we’re doing is we’re talking about the power structure; we’re talking about its entrenchment. As a result, the media is going through what they have to go through too often times distort - not all the time - and some of the media is fantastic, I have to say - they’re honest and fantastic.''

But much of it is not a - the distortion — and we’ll talk about it, you’ll be able to ask me questions about it. But we’re not going to let it happen, because I’m here again, to take my message straight to the people. As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The middle east is a disaster. North Korea - we’ll take care of it folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.

Beginning on day one, our administration went to work to tackle these challenges. On foreign affairs, we’ve already begun enormously productive talks with many foreign leaders, much of it you’ve covered, to move forward towards stability, security and peace in the most troubled regions of the world, which there are many. We have had great conversations with the United Kingdom, and meetings. Israel, Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.
- Donald Trump, Feb. 16, 2017 News Conference (after 39:09)


With little regard for the truth — he was previously fired by The Times of London for making up a quote — Mr. Johnson wrote about a Europe scheming to impose standard condom sizes and ban his country’s beloved prawn-cocktail-flavored chips (both untrue).

“Boris invented fake news,” said Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times, who was in Brussels shortly after Mr. Johnson. ...
The campaign was marked by a relentless drip of anti-immigration rhetoric and a couple of big lies that stuck: the 350 million pounds (about $450 million at current rates) that Britain paid to the European Union every week (false) and the prospect of millions of Turks’ making their way to Britain if it stayed in the union (Turkey is not joining the bloc). Two years ago, the United Nations urged Britain to deal with hate speech in its newspapers, specifically citing a column in The Sun that compared migrants to cockroaches and the norovirus.

The tabloids say they merely reflect the concerns and fears of their readers.

- KATRIN BENNHOLD, To Understand ‘Brexit,’ Look to Britain’s Tabloids, NYT, MAY 2, 2017


Colonel Huber and his soldiers have been the subjects of two recent cyberattacks: false claims of wrongdoing that officials believe were put in circulation by an increasingly aggressive Russian intelligence operation that is meant to sow doubts and resentment of NATO’s growing presence in the Baltics.

The first attack came on Feb. 14. Emails sent to the president of the Lithuanian Parliament and various local news media outlets falsely claimed that German soldiers had raped a girl. The story rippled through the country before the police determined that it was untrue.

A few weeks later, another series of emails circulated with what seemed to be photos of Colonel Huber among a group of Russian partisans. The photos were faked.

Then, in early April, came a phony story about a supposed chemical assault on American troops in nearby Estonia, which appeared mysteriously on a popular Lithuanian news site.
- GARDINER HARRIS, Jim Mattis, in Lithuania, Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to NATO, NYT, MAY 10, 2017


With its huge reach, Facebook has begun to act as the great disseminator of the larger cloud of misinformation and half-truths swirling about the rest of media. It sucks up lies from cable news and Twitter, then precisely targets each lie to the partisan bubble most receptive to it. ...
A week and a half after the election, President Obama bemoaned “an age where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television.” ...
Scholars and critics have been warning of the solipsistic irresistibility of algorithmic news at least since 2001.... ... In 2008, I piled on with my own book, “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.”
- FARHAD MANJOO, Can Facebook Fix Its Own Worst Bug?, NYT, APRIL 25, 2017


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