This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As my mother used to say: It's all fun and games until someone shoots up a pizza place.
That preceding statement is something I made up. Parts of it are true for example, I do have a mother.
That, in a nutshell, is how "fake news" works. Take a little bit of information that might be true even if it's nothing more than a familiar person's name embellish the rest, post it on your favorite social media platform and watch it spread like kudzu.
We watched it happen repeatedly over the political season. We'd see a story on Facebook that claimed the pope had endorsed Donald Trump, or something equally ridiculous. Some of us would say, "Oh, that's nonsense!" But some of us would read it and say, "That's interesting."
According to a survey commissioned by Buzzfeed News and released earlier this week, far more of us bought the fakery than didn't. The survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, interviewed more than 3,000 adults and found that three-quarters of them found some fake headlines to be "somewhat" or "very" accurate.
The survey found some difference between Republicans and Democrats, but not much. According to the survey, about 84 percent of Republicans rated fake headlines accurate, while 71 percent of Democrats did.
Democrats may be more heartened by the anecdotal evidence of an actual creator of fake news. NPR reporter Laura Sydell tracked down someone who creates fake news in a Los Angeles suburb a man named Jestin Coler, who didn't do it for partisanship, but to make money off web advertising and "to highlight the extremism of the white nationalist alt-right."
One of the things Coler said in the NPR story was that stories that favored the Trump campaign and denigrated Hillary Clinton would spread like wildfire but that stories that were pro-liberal wouldn't go anywhere. "You'll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out," Coler told Sydell.
Maybe it's because conservatives are more used to having bullpucky fed to them. After all, they've had years of right-slanted stories from Fox News, or the conspiratorial rantings of the likes of Alex Jones which not only tell "the truth" from the conservative perspective, but constantly drill into listeners' heads that everyone else in the media (the "lamestream media," like The New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and so on) is lying to them.
Often, fake news has led to real legislation. Coler, in his NPR interview, cited a fake story about people in Colorado using food stamps to buy legal marijuana and how a Colorado legislator later introduced a bill to make that nonexistent practice illegal.
It all stopped being funny last weekend when somebody went into a Washington, D.C., pizza joint with an assault rifle, pointed it at an employee (who escaped unharmed) and shot a few rounds inside the restaurant. Police arrested a 28-year-old man from North Carolina who reportedly told them he had come to "self-investigate" a story he had read: a fake news report that accused Hillary Clinton of running a child-sex-trafficking ring out of this pizza place.
So, because of one fake news story, a small business has been terrorized, employees and neighbors legitimately feared for their lives and a guy is sitting in jail.
The broader danger of fake news is that, for so many people, it becomes indistinguishable from the real stuff. When real journalism is devalued, its credibility destroyed by the imitators, whom does that benefit? The people in power Republican and Democrat, governmental and corporate who can enrich themselves with hidden schemes.
One famous person mentioned in one of these fake news stories this week said enough. Pope Francis who, despite what you read on Facebook, did not endorse Trump told a Belgian Catholic publication that spreading disinformation was "probably the greatest damage that the media can do" and amounted to a sin.
For those who know their Latin word roots, the pope got rather graphic about it.
"I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into no offense intended the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true," he said. "And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done."
"Coprophilia" is being aroused by excrement. "Coprophagia" is eating excrement.
In short, when the pope is calling out the media for dropping a load of crap on the world, the people spreading that crap would be wise to listen.