Today is April 3rd, therefore everything on the Internet is back to being true. But, on Saturday you couldn’t believe anything you read or heard. Even some of legitimate sounding stories turned out to be fake. A celebrity in California announced that he was moving to a neighboring Congressional district so that he could run for Congress against the incumbant. Twenty-four hours later he announced it was an April Fools joke.
Other stories were easier to spot. No, they didn’t release kangaroos in Wyoming. (Jack-a-lopes would have killed them anyway.)
It’s a harmless tradition that lets us laugh at ourselves and at each other as some get “caught” and end up believing the joke.
But, this year, I noticed a lot less involvement and even noticed some sites refusing to play along. “Fake News” has been in the news for the past year or so. It’s intentionally false stories, often designed to try to make a particular person or party look bad. The combination of the Internet, specifically Facebook, and the presidential election made for a toxic environment for the spread of fake stories.
My brother pointed out that actually this is nothing new. We’ve had fake news for centuries. It used to be called “Yellow Journalism.” And people did it 100 years ago for the same reason they are doing it today; to either discredit people or make money or both.
One of the big revelations from last week was apparent proof that Russia spread fake news to try to influence the election. They approached the issue with a modern take. They created fake Twitter accounts with words in the descriptions that they thought would appeal to President Trump. Then, they looked at his history of posting to find the times he would be online. When they knew he was online, they would use these fake accounts to promote fake news stories with the hope that President Trump would see one and retweet it. My brother asked me about it.
Do you think the Russians were really trying to influence the election?
Yeah, it looks that way.
Do you think this is the first time the Russians have attempted to influence our elections?
Well. . .
Of course not. We influence elections in other countries, and they do in ours. So, what’s the difference? The difference is that there used to be gatekeepers. It used to be you had to get a writer/editor/publisher to believe your fake news and then it got out to the masses. . and it took hours for it to get published, but more likely days.
Today, we are the writers and editors. Facebook and Twitter are the publishers. And while those platforms are attempting to crack down on fake news, I don’t have high hopes for their success. If they are successful, what’s to stop some algorithm from deciding that this site (www.staging.rodneymbliss.com) promotes fake news? Will I have to get someone to vet my stories? Will we have Facebook police or Twitter cops chasing down false stories? I hope not.
In the mean time, we are each responsible for deciding for ourselves what to believe. The Kangaroos in Wyoming? Obviously fake. A celebrity running for Congress in California? That’s a tough one.
If only everyday were April 1, it would be easy to tell which stories to ignore.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved