Snopes rips the media for fake news stories

An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th President since his inauguration.

Source: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas

Read it, please.

I am not a fan of President Trump, did not support him and I am not involved with either the Democrat or Republican parties. I have watched with disbelief, however, as the full power of propaganda messaging has been brought to play by “professional journalists”. There are many, many, many negative things that can be reported accurately and get the point across – but as Snopes documents, reporters have crossed a line into fantasy writing, as if it is their intent to interfere with democracy itself. I have not previously written about this specific topic – propaganda versus Trump – because the topic is overwhelming in scope.

Thankfully, Snopes does an excellent job addressing the absurd levels to which propaganda messaging has become the default position and concludes:

It has to be acknowledged that since January, many of Trump’s opponents, and even lukewarm supporters, have found considerable fault with his policies and behavior, based on accurate facts. There have been many occasions when Trump himself, undistorted and unfiltered, contributed mightily to the four personas we have outlined.

….

[but regarding poorly produced news stories] these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news about diarrhea on the golf course, because they bear some distant relationship with the truth.

Which is precisely how the best propaganda operates – it has at least some link to truth, but bends and distorts that truth to motivate the target to adopt and agenda or take action.

Years ago, I observed the use and power of propaganda to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. That led to much study on the subject and to the creation of this blog and Facebook page.

Politics is a minefield of propaganda messaging not only from politicians but also from their fanatical devotees on social media plus their friends in the mainstream media whose bad reporting is shared on social media as confirmation of allegations.

In the linked post, Snopes eviscerates the credibility of professional media (and some of the professional fake news web sites, especially those on social media) due to the media’s having morphed into a full time propaganda operation. In the future (which could be next week), when the Media screams “Wolf!”, few people will believe them anymore.

Remember, there are many, many issues regarding Trump that can be reported accurately and are quite negative for Trump or his policies. There is plenty to bash by just sticking to facts and policies. But the media, as Snopes documents, has become a giant propaganda messaging operation. Discerning truth from such overwhelming propaganda firepower is difficult.

We worry about allegations of foreign nations interfering in our elections but ignore media actually doing so through lies, distortions and inaccurate reporting.

Social media fake propaganda poster

This is a photograph of an animal crossing bridge in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This bridge has nothing to do with the Netherlands.

The photo was stolen from Joel Sartore, a professional photographer for the National Geographic Society, Geo, Smithsonian and others, and the photo is featured on his own page: https://www.joelsartore.com/keyword/greatest-hit/page/3/

Why do people create these garbage posters? And why do people share them? Why do people then add supportive comments to these posts?

And why are people so stupid as to think the Netherlands looks like this mountainous terrain?

14 year old electrocuted by cell phone? Amazon’s Alexa calls 9-1-1?

Something is missing from this story (and other versions of it that are all over the media) – a 14 year old taking a bath, reached for her cell phone that was connected to a charger, and this caused her death by electrocution.

A cell phone charger outputs 5 volts, typically at less than 1.0 amps (newer chargers may go up to 2.0 amps). This low voltage and power level is not going to kill anyone, in a bath tub or not.

If this is a true story (and we have no way of knowing that) it is likely she attempted to plug the charger in to a wall outlet and made contact with 110 volt AC power, which is often lethal. (Update: Newer reports note this involved a charger plugged into an AC electrical extension cord.) The cell phone part of the story creates the novelty that translates into clicks, eyeballs for advertisers, and social media sharing.

Texas teen electrocuted after cell phone incident in bathtub

A search on Facebook shows untrue claims such as “Remember your phone is an electrical device that will electrocute you when plugged in and near water.”

At this point, a lot of people are going to believe that you can be electrocuted by your cell phone, which is nonsense.

Similarly, a widely spread news report claimed Amazon’s Alexa called 911 during a domestic violence situation. Amazon says this is impossible.

Taken together, consider how these two relatively unimportant stories are translated into popular lore. Many people will vaguely remember these stories, which then become “facts”, even though neither is true. Most of what we think we know comes from the media and social media (and perhaps personal conversations). Unfortunately, most of the items promoted by media and social media are designed to hook our emotions and shut down our brains. News reporters intentionally use methods defined for propaganda to generate clicks to their stories – and you won’t believe what happened next!

Newsweek’s fake news report about the Montana earthquake

Natural Disaster: 5.8 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Montana, Raising Supervolcano Concerns

Yellowstone National Park, which covers parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, lies on top of a supervolcano that could effectively wipe out the United States if it were to explode. The last time it did, 640,000 years ago, it expelled 240 cubic miles (think about that) of rocky debris into the sky.

Early Thursday morning, residents of southern Montana feared the worst when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the region. Though its epicenter was only 230 miles from Yellowstone, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) says the seismic activity was not irregular, and the supervolcano is not expected to erupt anytime soon.

Newsweek

This fake news report uses exaggeration and hype to target the emotions of readers – an exaggerated headline and first paragraph which is then negated by the last sentence of the second paragraph! This quake has nothing to do with a past or present super volcano!

The goal is to hook your emotions – especially fear about a supervolcano wiping out the United States.

This “news report” meets the very definition of fake news – a false or exaggerated statement designed to appeal to the emotions, for the purpose of selling eyeballs to advertisers. The above example is not funny – its insulting and rude to readers.

Update: I checked with my personal consulting geologist who actually lives in Montana and she said there’s a separate tectonic zone near the epicenter of the quake which is probably the cause of this one. There’s a lot of old faults in the region that occasionally rupture.…it wasn’t even a disaster

The news media has demonstrated this week it is incapable of learning anything. It’s all fake news.

Update: The Missoula newspaper explains this in more detail. Newsweek’s fictional story isn’t even close.

We lose our ability to recognize “fake news” due to the volume of posts on social media

Basically, as we are flooded with more and more posts, our ability to discriminate between real and fake becomes blurred.

At relatively low flows of information, his algorithm predicted that a theoretical social media user was able to discriminate between genuine and fake news well, sharing mostly genuine news. However, as Oliveira and his coauthors tweaked the algorithm to reflect greater and greater flows of information—the equivalent of scrolling through an endless Twitter or Facebook feed—the theoretical user proved less and less capable of sorting quality information from bad information.

 

Oliveira found that, in general, popularity had a stronger effect on whether a person shared something than quality. At higher levels of information flow that effect became more pronounced, meaning people would theoretically spend less or no time assessing the information’s quality before deciding to share it. Soon, as they paid less and less attention to each piece of information, the people were sharing fake news at higher and higher rates.

 

At the highest rates modeled, the quality of a piece of information had zero effect on the popularity of that information. “We show that both information overload and limited attention contribute to a degradation in the system’s discriminative power,” Oliveira said via email.

How Fake News Breaks Your Brain

Much social media “influencers” content is ghost written and fictional

Everything is fake on social media:

Ghostwriting for social media stars is the secret new Millennial It-career.

Source: Which Internet Influencers Use Ghostwriters? – Ghostwriting Secrets of Internet Influencers

Read the whole thing – including the biography of a teen Instagram star written by an author had to create a nearly entirely fictional account of the background of this teen social media “star”.

Media priorities driven by conflict and ratings (“clicks”)

In media, propaganda and advertising it’s all about “emotional jolts per minute”. The media provides “celebrity-like” coverage of political personalities but seldom does serious policy reporting. This problem is pervasive in political coverage but even rears up in coverage of health, science, business and technology.

Personalities, and especially those that generate “emotional jolts per minute”, are the focus of reporting – not serious analysis or policy understanding.

●Do news sites give serious, sustained attention to policy issues as well as publishing innumerable hot takes about the personality-driven dust-up of the moment?

Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, the study’s author, sees trouble on that last point.

The press is focusing on personality not substance,” he said recently on public radio’s “On the Media” program. And that reflects “not a partisan bias but a journalistic bias,” the tendency to seek out conflict. (No mystery there — it’s more interesting.)

“It’s the press in its usual mode, and that erodes public trust,” Patterson said.

And then there’s the dirty little secret that every journalist knows — Trump stories drive ratings and clicks. The word “Trump” in a headline vastly increases its chances of getting attention. (We’re all guilty; see above.)

WashingtonPost: Is Media coverage of Trump to negative?

Since so much of “news” is personality-driven trivia of “he said, she said” and faux outrage quotable quotes, we seldom develop an understanding of the policy or root subject.

Worse, many believe they have knowledge of a subject because it was reported by a well known media outlet. In reality, most of what we think we know – from the media – is likely superficial at best or incomplete and wrong at worst.

Within this celebrity gossip reporting milieu propaganda messaging and spin thrive.

Weaponizing Twitter and other social media for political propaganda

A GOP donor who once had ties to IBM is the man behind the millions of Twitter bots President Trump counts on as followers who could be employed to target voters with misleading or fake news on social media.

Using “bots” to target social media users with propaganda is presented in the story as a possibility. But its already a reality.

“You have arbitrary and ridiculous information spread very quickly, and now to targeted user more susceptible to believing it and spreading it, and we now know that it influences people. We saw it in the election, with Brexit,” he said.

and gosh, sounds like propaganda:

“uses secret psychological methods to pinpoint which messages are the most persuasive to individual online viewers”

Media bias / fact check “media bias resource” web site

QUESTIONABLE SOURCE A questionable source exhibits any of the following: extreme bias, overt propaganda, poor or no sourcing to credible information and/or is fake news.

Source: Media Bias/Fact Checking

Ran across this web site inadvertently. You can look up a very large number of publishers, news services, social media fake news websites and more, and see where they score in their bias.

Fake headlines equal fake news

Actual Headlines:

Those are actual headlines for the same event.

Which headline packs the emotional hook that gets people sharing a story on social media about a dumb woman distracted by a cell phone?

The first is from the Washington Post and is a fake news headline. This is the version of the story widely shared on social media. The others are from local news and TV news outlets.

From CBS:

The woman’s son said there is a lot more to the story than just another person distracted by a cellphone. He said his mother is legally blind and diabetic.

“She regularly takes on schedule her meals and checks her sugar. As far as I was told, when she was walking down the street, she felt a little nauseous in a sense, and looked at her phone to see what time it was,” the woman’s son said.

….The woman’s son said she has trouble seeing blended colors, and wishes workers had put up some type of indicator or cones to alert people to be careful.

Which headline was distributed nationally?

Variations of the Washington Post fake news story.

Which headline fits a popular urban meme that cellular phone usage will kill us all?

That of the Washington Post. Indeed, WaPo’s fake news story goes in depth in to the distraction of cellular phone usage, with only a single sentence noting her son says she is legally blind and diabetic.

Which headline packed the stronger emotional punch to get people sharing online?

That of the Washington Post.

Which news outlet is using the methods of online, for profit, social media-based publishers?

The Washington Post. This is a sad story that would not make the news except for (a) there was video of the fall, and (b) it fit the narrative of being distracted by cell phones.

It is understandable how the story started out incorrect but it is inexcusable that the media spins the story as walking while distracted by a cell phone, even after briefly acknowledging the victim is legally blind.

When the media cannot report a simple story correctly, what do you think they are doing with complex stories?