Don’t be duped: Here are ‘Fake News’ stories and how I caught them

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State capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, at night

By Greg Markley
For the Opelika Observer

In 2019 Business Insider quoted Mark Zuckerberg as saying 2020 “…is going to be a very tough year.” That’s an understatement! As the founder of Facebook, he faces pressure to exterminate “Fake News.” With abundant false articles about the Coronavirus, the U.S. presidential election, and more, Zuckerberg hopes we do our part to weed out dishonesty and dissembling on social media.

A famous line from Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, is when Caesar declares, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” This means we should not depend on external factors or heroes, we must be personally responsible. I addressed this topic before, because it hurts our republic to have such intentionally untrue items poisoning our civic life.

Pew Research Center found recently that 44% of American adults get most, if not all, of their news from Facebook. Yet we know many Facebook stories are inaccurate or wholly false. To illustrate, I took 6 of the top 10 most viewed “Fake News” stories of 2019 on Facebook as examples. I show they are as fake as students telling professors their dog ate the overdue 5-page paper. (Actually, sometimes dogs do munch on and destroy books; it happened to me.)

First is “Joe Biden Calls Trump Supporters ‘Dregs of Society.” Try the subject’s Website or old newspaper files or transcripts. But why waste your time? Just use your intuition to see that someone is trying a play on words, to mimic an inelegant phrase from Hillary Clinton in 2016. She called some Donald Trump supporters “A basket of deplorables.”

People who dislike someone tend to believe anything that downgrades someone they hate, true or not. The phrase (‘Dregs…) is obviously created, not taken from a Biden speech. What makes it hard to believe is that Biden grew up in hardscrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania so would not likely call people there by such a phrase. But Mrs. Clinton grew up rich in suburban Chicago.

Another headline is “NYC coroner who declared Epstein death ‘Suicide’ worked for the (Bill) Clinton Foundation making 500K a year up until 2015.” The demented Jeffrey Epstein’s death has been investigated by police and deputy coroners. The cause was still “suicide.” Serpentine stories like this one, with claim wrapped in other clam, are seldom true.

On the Republican side, a headline was “Trump is Now Trying to Get Mike Pence Impeached.” That’s odd, since Pence has been a very loyal vice president and President Trump values loyalty above all. Pence also is admired by evangelical Christians for keeping them on the president’s radar. Perhaps the author wants to create a rift between Pence and Trump.

In addition, why would a Democratic congress go ahead and let the president proceed with an impeachment? It is the House, and then the Senate, who would run this show. The president cannot impeach anyone without the House’s approval. Why would they please Trump in this way? If Pence committed a criminal act, an impeachment would be in order. But on a president’s whim? No.

The final headline is “Trump’s grandfather was a tax evader; his father was a member of the KKK.” So what? If it’s true, then Donald Trump, like Barack Obama, weathered a tough childhood to redeem the family name. And what of the claims? Many Facebook users would think that talk of one’s troubled relatives is impolite and rude. They would indeed call this claim false, or irrelevant to Donald Trump himself in 2020.

People tell me they “don’t have the time to check out these articles or broadcast claims out.” But would you rather believe lies than spend a few minutes in research? At the local level, be just as careful. If a candidate’s website or Facebook page says she is an organizer for a volunteer group, Google the organization’s website. That should indicate whether she is involved there—or beefing up her resume.

If a candidate says his district is “the most green,” and you initially doubt that, call an environmental group to clarify information. Local candidates state statistics often and make citizens dizzy with facts. But the facts and numbers are worthless until you check them for veracity. It doesn’t mean you dislike or mistrust a candidate, it shows you are conscientious. Then you can paraphrase Shakespeare by saying, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in me. It is in others who take Facebook as the gospel!”

Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 19 of the last 24 years. An award-winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.

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