Fake news is about more than just lies. It’s often deployed as a form of online harassment, designed to have a silencing or disorienting effect on people – making them unsure of themselves and what they know to be true. Since many of the stories hitting headlines these days seem unbelievable, it’s more important than ever to distinguish fact from fiction when reading and sharing news online. Luckily, HeartMob, a platform that provides support for people getting harassed online, has developed this amazing comic with artist Kendall Simpson to help you do just that!
According to an early 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 62% of Americans get their news from social media, with 44% getting news from Facebook. In the run-up to the presidential election, the top 20 fake news stories outperformed the top 20 stories from reputable news sites in terms of clicks, reactions, and shares on Facebook, with the popularity of fake news stories soaring in the months right before the election. With its major propagators not only getting White House press credentials, but being installed in the White House itself, fake news is an epidemic we can no longer ignore.
Fake news, while rooted in the online world, can quickly translate into physical violence, as we saw in the case of Pizzagate in late 2016. A fake news story claimed Hillary Clinton and John Podesta ran an underground child sex ring in a pizza shop in Washington, D.C., suggesting there were food-related code words in the leaked Podesta emails — like "cheese pizza" meaning "child pornography." Edgar Maddison Welch, a young white man from North Carolina, erroneously taking the conspiracy theory for fact, walked into the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop on December 4 and fired a rifle. Thankfully, patrons and workers fled and no injuries were reported, but the Pizzagate case exemplifies the danger of escalation when fake news proliferates and goes unchallenged.
While fake news can take many forms and come from varied political stances, the false stories that get the most attention and are shared the most widely follow a pattern of prejudice and fear-mongering aimed to oppress and dehumanize marginalized people. Women, people of color, immigrants and Muslims are among those worst affected by the distribution of fake news and propaganda painting them in a negative light.
Some fake news may seem silly or frivolous, popping up as outlandish or far-fetched stories. However, it’s important to note that much of it libels and denigrates people who are working for change and liberation, and it’s often used against regular people to discourage us from speaking our minds. Unless you’re sure of the trustworthiness of a news story, check out the tips listed in the comic before sharing and risking the further spread of harmful lies. As consumers of news online, it’s our responsibility to be aware of what we’re sharing, and conscious of where it’s coming from.
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