Editorials

Outrageous, shocking, viral and fake

President Barack Obama announced today he is refusing to recognize the presidency of Donald Trump and that the nation will now be governed by Islamic law.

Had the above appeared on Facebook with a scary picture of Muslims there’s a good chance it would have been shared eagerly by millions of Americans, just as stories like “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide,” “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president,” and “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS” were in the months, weeks and days leading up to the Nov. 8 election.

They all have one thing in common — they are 100 percent fake.

Still, social media users gobbled them up as fact, liking and sharing away — and that likely played a major role in the outcome of the election.

Some of the stories were written here at home, but it turns out a significant number of them were created as part of a sophisticated Russian propaganda effort to undermine faith in American democracy.

The Washington Post cited a report completed by The Foreign Policy Research Institute and PropOrNot, a nonpartisan group of researchers, that found fake stories pushed on Facebook were viewed more than 213 million times leading up to the election. The report found the stories were overwhelmingly pro-Trump.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Post. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

Facebook and Google have said they are taking steps to stop the spread of fake stories on their sites, but much of that responsibility should be shouldered by the consumer.

If it sounds too outlandish to be true, it probably is. Next time you think about liking or sharing that sensational story or meme that confirms just how bad so-and-so is or how evil refugees are, maybe spend a minute or two fact checking it first. You might learn something.

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