Democrats Have A “Fake News” Problem And We’re In Denial About It

Democrats Have A “Fake News” Problem And We're In Denial About It

It’s now a political truism that conservatives have cultivated a social media culture of lemmings who are happy to ignore facts to further a specific, pro-Trump, anti-democracy-with-a-small-“d” narrative. For examples see: #Benghazi, #Pizzagate, #ReleaseTheMemo.

They are more than willing to swallow and regurgitate any propaganda that legitimizes their resentments and discredits their perceived enemies.

In my experience, progressives are more likely to start from a fact-based perspective, and are much less easily seduced by the fact-free narratives that enthrall the right. But don’t we, too, have our own fake news problem?

It comes in the form of progressives sharing any feel-good “look how stupid Trump is” meme, video, or “news” story that comes across their social media platforms without verifying it first.

And I am guilty of it.

The term “fake news,” which stems from the term Lügenpresse (“lying press”), was coined by German author Reinhold Anton In 1914 during World War I to refer to enemy propaganda. Roughly 30 years later, Hitler and the Nazis appropriated the term and used it to weaken opposition to the regime, primarily accusing Jewish, communist, and later the foreign press of spreading fake news.

In 2016, Donald Trump formulated his own take on the “lying press” battle cry with his signature go-to phrase “fake news.” His supporters continue to use it en masse to discredit any true story that calls out his lies or denigrates his disastrous presidency.

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One of Trump’s more masterful maneuvers has been to flood the news cycle with endless nonsense and outrageous claims. If he can suck up all of the oxygen in a media moment, and keep people looking at all of the shiny objects (“It’s treason not to clap!”; “FBI text messages!”), the public will barely realize that they can’t breathe.

And the media falls for it every time.

Every single tweet Trump writes is now a news story. Not only is the media’s Pavlovian response just more free press for Trump, it’s also a larger megaphone amplifying his message louder and farther.

He pushes out so much outrageous crazy-making stuff (fully knowing that it will have this effect on us) that after a while even absurd jokes and satire sites look downright believable and—here’s the truly scary part—normal. The waters are so murky that it’s very easy for to get duped into sharing fake news on a daily basis.

Lately, I’ve seen a troubling number of falsehoods being shared by progressives, without any attempt to verify their claims. During the election, an avalanche of false information and propaganda created to attack and cause damage to the Clinton campaign was shared by both Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters. Studies have revealed that Trump and Sanders supporters were responsible for disseminating much of the Russian propaganda and fake news during the 2016 election cycle.

This week, an Oxford University study shows that, since the election, Trump supporters share more fake news, or “junk news” as the study calls it, than any other group. While the numbers are staggeringly clear, I think that it’s vital that progressives also acknowledge our own share in this dilemma, so we can fix it!

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One example of the kind of bogus news shared gleefully by progressives was on the day that the stock market took a severe nose dive. It was a photo of an alleged tweet that Trump posted back when President Obama was in office. The tweet included bad grammar and hilarious spelling mistakes (Dow Jones spelled “Dow Joans”). It’s the type of stuff that we’ve become accustomed to with Trump. So many of us laughed at it, shared it, and went on believing that he could be this dumb.

There’s just one problem. It was not real. Yes, Trump is that moronic, but the tweet was an invention. A fake.

After the photo went viral, the creator, Shaun Usher tweeted that he couldn’t believe anyone would think it was real.

Even Snopes had to do a fact check article on the authenticity of the tweet because it went so viral.

I know that it seems like a harmless joke, but when a joke can be shared and believed on such a large scale, no matter how false it may be, the mob mentality of it all can have dangerous side effects. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly with crazy, right-wing conspiracy theories that have triggered politically charged investigations that almost always lead nowhere.

There are Democrats right now who believe that Trump really sent that tweet, even though many of us have seen the proof that it’s not real. This is a very slippery slope, and we are starting to slide.

On Facebook, my friend John, along with numerous other gay male friends, found nothing wrong with sharing this false info, even when he was shown that it was fake.

“It’s a joke!”

“It’s not hurting anyone!”

“Who are you, the humor police?”

I was shocked at how many people were making excuses. One even went as far as to suggest that as gay men we “love to gossip” and so we get a pass.

No, queen.

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If we are going to get on our soapbox and scream about how the other side shares blatant lies, falsified news stories, and misrepresented facts, we can’t turn around and do the same. Neither should the wittiest or sassiest of gays be given permission to post fake information and then use the old Trump excuse of “it’s a joke.” By sharing fake stories, memes or videos, we are proving Donald Trump’s fake news claims to be true. We are giving Trump exactly what he wants.

I’ve caught myself doing it. Just this week I posted something and within minutes a few followers on my Twitter and Facebook pages quickly called me out on this item being fake. It makes me so embarrassed because I pride myself on keeping people informed of the truth, and yet I still let something fake slip through the cracks.

So I did what any of us would do, I deleted it. But every person that I alerted who was also sharing this same fake item refused to delete it, or even update their post to state that it is not real.

This is where they lost me. If there is proof that what you posted is false, why would you keep it up? Are we so possessed with getting likes that we would sacrifice our integrity and risk being hypocritical? If so, we are now an accomplice in spreading fake news.

Even our divas are susceptible to it!

On February 7, 2018, gay icon and staunch Trump-critic Bette Midler retweeted a meme that includes a quote attribute to Donald Trump where he calls Republicans “the dumbest group of voters.” While many of us may actually agree with this statement, this quote itself is not real, and it was famously debunked over a year ago.

Even the first comment under Bette’s retweet tells her that it’s a fake, yet the tweet is still on her timeline at the publishing of this article.

It’s happening again with this silly Facebook algorithm thing. One of the “copy and paste” messages even states that “snopes say it’s real,” even though our trusted friends at Snopes have marked this whole debacle as false.

Sure, this time the topics are harmless but the overall theme behind the power of mass false messaging is alarming.

The Republican Party has all but mastered the art of manipulating their people with very biased, untrue, or misleading news items. Now they have the pulpit of the White House from which to push out their propaganda and lies, and social media has only provided amplification.

If you really want to torture yourself, check out the posts from the official Facebook page for the White House. It’s alarming how very divisive and partisan talking points are masked as patriotic videos and posts, and political red meat propaganda is disguised as greetings from confident leaders.

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If we are to combat this vile plague, we must play smarter and be smarter. We don’t have to reach out to political scholars or historians to verify each thing we post online. But we should consider the source, or do a simple search on a reliable fact checking site like Snopes to verify information before we post it.

If you still can’t verify an assertion, do a larger google search and see if the outlets that are sharing the story have something in common, like a similar political bias. Are they are just feeding off one another, repeating the same story from one dubious outlet? That is a strong indication you’ve got some propaganda on your hands.

Go to an official and trusted news source, not blogs or websites claiming to be news sources.

Don’t just read the headline and post! Clickbait headlines are treacherous, and we have to make sure to read the entire article before sharing the story.

Check the date! Just like your food, you want to check the date on your news story to make sure that you are sharing current and updated information. (Side note: I don’t need to re-mourn the death of my favorite celebrity, so please check the dates on those death announcements, too.)

Also, memes are not reliable sources of information.

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We all love that social media has made it much easier to stay in touch with our inner circles and reach millions of people withins seconds. It’s an incredible tool, but it can be twisted to nefarious purposes.

We’ve seen the digital info attacks that Russia waged on our citizens during the 2016 election. We’ve see the persuasive power of false messaging within echo chambers like closed Facebook groups or open forums like Twitter. We’ve seen the ramifications of not doing our part to stop the war on facts, and the results are terrifying. We must stand up and do a better job at defending the truth at every turn.

There is no halfway with this one, either you fight against the fake news, or you are the fake news. Every time we post, we chose which one we are.

Let’s choose wisely.

Scott Nevins is an award-winning TV personality and host, comedian, political/news contributor, LGBTQ and HIV awareness activist, and godfather.

@ScottNevins