Almost all of us have been a victim of accidentally spreading fake news at one time. A trusted friend emails you a link to an article that is red meat for the conservative base; it sounds legitimate, and the name of the site even sounds official. You forward the article and post it on Facebook and Twitter — and then the backlash is embarrassing. Multiple people point out you’re wrong, and you feel like an idiot. But how were you to know, especially in this information overload, social media era? It has become normal to quickly skim articles and headlines. And why would you suspect your most trusted, intelligent friends would be sending you false news?
It used to be The Onion was the only satire news site. And the site makes it very clear its news is satire. But within the last year, multiple sites (there is a list compiled here) have sprung up that do not make it clear they are satire, if at all. They brazenly post fake news that isn’t even funny, like The Onion, but sounds like legitimate news.
By posting these ostentatious stories, the sites attract many page views, which allows them to make money from advertisers. Even more nefarious, some are run by Democrats in order to make conservatives look like radical extremists. The strategy, an insider told me, is to fool so many conservatives into spreading a ridiculous, fake article that finally a prominent elected official falls for it. Then the left pounces on the official and makes them look foolish and/or an extremist.
As I’ve written previously, putting out heroic stories about Donald Trump that turn out to be false doesn’t help Trump when people discover they are false.
Some of the worst offenders are sites that rip off names from legitimate conservative news sites. World News Daily Report is a typical example. It sounds very similar to the conservative site WorldNetDaily, which recently renamed itself to WND. The disclaimer on the site says nothing about the news being fake; instead, it disingenuously states that the site is not responsible for inaccurate information. The fake site’s “About us FAQ” page pretends to cater to conservative Jews and Christians with a strong defense of Israel. Yet how are fake news articles helping Israel? The site has become so successful that the myth-debunking site Snopes now lists it second on its “Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors.”
The free market may finally resolve this problem. The gossip website Gawker was recently sued by celebrity wrestler Hulk Hogan for posting a sex tape of him, which put the company into bankruptcy and forced it to shut down a week ago. There are many ways these sites could be sued out of existence, such as for libel or the unauthorized use of images. Facebook has started removing these articles from users’ news feeds. Perhaps a developer can create an app to add to browsers that will specifically block these sites.
The people who run these sites are nothing more than cruel bullies who should get a taste of their own medicine. It is one thing to identify a story as parody, but to deliberately print false news to trick innocent people in order to make them look bad and destroy their credibility is dishonest, a nuisance and an abuse of the press. If they knowingly put false news about a crime or catastrophe out over TV, they would be prosecuted, due to the dangers of creating substantial public harm such as a mass panic.
Until these sites are curtailed, conservatives must get into the habit of looking up news articles regularly on myth-debunking sites like Snopes (granted, that particular site leans to the left). If The New York Times isn’t breaking some huge story, but a site called Your News Wire is, that is a good indication it’s a fake article.