Fake news this week: No, California didn’t legalize child prostitution

Here’s a roundup of things that didn’t happen this week:

California legalized child prostitution

More specifically, Democrats in California legalized child prostitution.

As you might have guessed, that’s not what happened. California law changed to treat children in prostitution as crime victims, not juvenile offenders. People selling or buying sex with children will still be prosecuted. (You can read the bill for yourself here.)

The meme seems to have started with an article by California Republican legislator Travis Allen in the conservative Washington Examiner. What Allen actually wrote was grounded in the facts, though he has a very partisan interpretation of them. However, the Examiner’s headline, “California Democrats legalize child prostitution,” set off a wave of social media outrage and copycat stories on a range of right-wing sites.

Story continues below advertisement

READ: Fake news this week: The Queen isn’t dead, and Donald Trump didn’t threaten war with Mexico


The claim was debunked by Snopes, Politifact, NBC and the Sacramento Bee, which called it “wildly misleading.”

The pushback wasn’t long in coming:

Many years of angry right-wing media energy have been focused on outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama and the Clintons. Where will all of the attention go under a Trump administration?

One possible answer is state governments run by Democrats, particularly California. We will see.

READ: Fake news: No room in the stadium, Brad Pitt moving to Brantford, the War on Christmas and more

All roads lead to Macedonia

So how did I see the story in the first place? Because one of the many sites that amplified it,, has suddenly become a constant presence in my Facebook feed.

Story continues below advertisement, no relation to BuzzFeed, traffics in non-stop high-energy outrage, Daily Mail-style ALL CAPS! and a consistent theme of public humiliation. Here are some headlines:

  • Hillary Clinton Invited Herself To Trump’s Inauguration–Trump Uninvited Her 30 Minutes Later
  • The CIA is SCARED! Trump Just Promised the BEST Revenge After Their Attacks Against Him
  • Whoa: Republicans Tried To BETRAY Trump…But He Just Shut Them DOWN!
  • Nancy Pelosi Tried To Trash Trump Over Election, Ended Up Making Total Fool Of Herself, It’s So Painful
  • Whoopi Goldberg DEMANDS Celebrities Boycott Trump’s Inauguration, Then Gets A NASTY Surprise
  • Obama Gets HUMILIATED On Live TV During Farewell Speech To Military
  • DAMN! Federal Judge Just Dropped The HAMMER On Obama…He’s In A Blind PANIC!
  • Breaking: Michelle Obama Just Caught Committing Huge Felony, She’s Done

On the enemies list: Obama, Clinton, a collection of other Democrats, the CIA, the UN.

Occasionally the site seems to veer into self-parody:

“… True Americans, those of us who don’t need anything but our work boots and our red hats will be just fine (under a Trump administration) and that’s all that really matters. Militiamen and patriots across the country will be free from all that government regulation that doesn’t really affect them but really ticks them off as the glorious US of A becomes the great land it once was before colored folk, the gays and women went and ruined it with grandiose ideas about ‘equality.’”

The site is registered to an address at an apartment building in Veles, Macedonia.

Story continues below advertisement

What’s it like to run a site like this? We had (and have) lots of questions, so we reached out to the site’s registered owner. We never got a response, but the domain name registration was immediately reset to private. (You can see a screenshot of the original registration here.)

On Jan. 4, published 14 stories, mostly quick rewrites and cut-and-pastes of material on other sites, so it’s potentially someone’s full-time job.

In November, BuzzFeed (the real one) explained Veles’s unlikely status as a global fake news hub as a product of high youth unemployment in the area. Local teenagers had found that U.S. Facebook clicks were worth much more than those from other parts of the world, so they focused on American politics.

In August, the Guardian found over 150 domains registered in Veles, all devoted to pumping out stories in English about Donald Trump.

In any case, I got to try out Facebook’s report-fake-news feature for the first time:

It seemed to work after a few days, but it’s hard to tell.

Story continues below advertisement

A Facebook spokesperson who spoke to us about the feature would not agree to be quoted for the record. In a recent FAQ, Facebook explained that stories flagged as fake by readers are sent to a group of third-party fact checkers. If they agree, the stories are labelled as disputed, may appear further down in the feed, and someone who wants to share them has to click through a warning before being able to.

(RT, formerly Russia Today, takes a dim view of the whole process.)

READ: Here’s how Facebook plans to fight fake news

In other fake news

The crew of Air Force One didn’t refuse to take Obama to Hawaii, and a Michigan GOP elector didn’t choose suicide over casting an electoral college vote for Trump. Politifact took advantage of a useful fact-checking tool to show that the picture in that fake story is actually of someone else.

How to fake a tweet (2)

Not like this bad Photoshop job debunked by Snopes, in which Donald Trump succumbs to an unusual moment of public self-doubt on New Year’s Eve. (The white space between the text and the avatar is much too narrow, for one thing.)

Last week, we looked at how to make essentially perfect fake tweets for screenshotting by editing your browser’s local copy in Safari. It’s easy to do (much easier than messing around with Photoshop) which is something to bear in mind if someone is showing off what they claim is an embarrassing deleted tweet.

Story continues below advertisement

(Trump’s real deleted tweets are here.)

Fake news news elsewhere

  • BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith predicts that in 2017 “fake news will become more sophisticated, and fake, ambiguous, and spun-up stories will spread widely.” We’ll also start to see high-quality fake video, he says.

Sponsored content