Fake news this week: Bikers for Trump aren’t cramming the highways, as far as we can tell

Images purporting to show hordes of bikers descending on Washington were taken years ago in other parts of the world.
Images purporting to show hordes of bikers descending on Washington were taken years ago in other parts of the world. GLOBAL NEWS

Here’s a roundup of things that didn’t happen, or happened other than as presented, in different continents several years ago:

Pro-Trump bikers, converging on Washington, are cramming the highways

Over two dozen different groups, from the right, left and somewhere in between, have permits to protest, or celebrate, Donald Trump’s inauguration. One is a group of pro-Trump bikers, who expect 5,000 people to roar into town for their event.

Will they? Well, we’ll see. It looked that way on social media, but as Buzzfeed pointed out, all was not as it appeared:

Where was that dramatic photo taken? Not recently, and probably nowhere in the United States. Buzzfeed traced it to a blog post published in Spain in 2013; we found an earlier use of it, on an Israeli discussion board in 2010.

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And the short video below? It’s from Iran, of all places:

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Six people protesting Donald Trump were fatally run over on a highway in Seattle

This account surfaced on the Seattle Tribune site, the fourth plausibly-named-might-be-a-newspaper site we’ve come across. (It has a visual similarity with the others.)

Nothing of the sort happened, the Associated Press reports.

(The picture seems to be from a Black Lives Matter protest in Baltimore.)

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Donald Trump doesn’t wash his hands after he uses the bathroom, as a negotiation power thing

This plays into the basic shape of many fake news stories, in that it’s a slight, almost believable escalation of what’s already known. Trump flouts social norms in other areas, so why not this one?

“After going to the bathroom, don’t wash your hands,” (supposedly) says a passage in Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal. Think about it: you’re handling your junk, you leave the men’s room, go back to your meeting and shake hands with people. They don’t know, but YOU know that they’re basically touching your junk. And the leverage you feel after that kind of play could be the advantage that you need to land a big contract.”

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The screenshot is (supposedly) of a Kindle copy of The Art of the Deal — something to bear in mind if someone produces a screenshot of a Kindle as proof of something, because as Snopes points out, the entire thing is a fabrication.

(Trump has described himself as a “clean hands freak” who dislikes shaking hands and pushing elevator buttons, especially the ground floor one, which is touched by other people more than the others. “I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible,” he wrote in 1997.)

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More things that didn’t happen in and around the U.S. transfer of power

Snopes has a handy roundup: Barack Obama has not installed a bronze statue of himself in the White House (though the image is a tribute to somebody’s Photoshop skills); Trump has not blocked the view of the Lincoln Memorial from the Capitol with a Jumbotron (it wasn’t clear if this was supposed to block Trump’s view of Lincoln or Lincoln’s view of him); this dreadful ode is not the official inaugural poem (there isn’t one):

” … True friend of the migrant from both far and near,
 He welcomes the worthy, but guards our frontier, 
Lest a murderous horde, for whom hell is the norm,
 Should threaten our lives and our nation deform.”

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The U.S. is deploying 3,600 main battle tanks to Europe 

That would be a lot of tanks, even by the standards of the United States’ vast armed forces — it would be more than half the main battle tanks that the U.S. has in the first place. However, that was what the Donbass News Agency, based in eastern Ukraine, told its readers: “2,000 US tanks will be sent in coming days from Germany to Eastern Europe, and 1,600 US tanks is deployed to storage facilities in the Netherlands … According to US Army Europe, 4,000 troops and 2,000 tanks will arrive in three US transport ships to Germany next weekend. ”

Donbass called the deployment “a dangerous escalation against nuclear-armed Russia, which poses the danger of a third world war.”

You could ask what 4,000 troops would do with 2,000 tanks, given that each tank has a crew of four, and also needs to be fuelled, supported and resupplied by other vehicles.

In any case, Medium points out the problem: Donbass had counted all U.S. vehicles involved with the deployment — trucks, Humvees, all of them — as main battle tanks. The real number of real tanks is about 180, half of which will be kept in storage. However, the 3,600-tank claim spread across the web, being translated into various languages, and eventually being picked up by the RIA Novosti news agency. (Text in Russian — use Chrome to translate.)

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Medium calls the story “… a classic case of disinformation laundering. The fake story was originally launched by a small and dubious site in Ukraine, and then picked up by conspiracy-minded fringe sites in the West. Using those sites as the source, RIA Novosti repeated the story, feeding it into the Russian-language space, where it gained at least limited pickup. It is an object lesson in how even obvious fake stories can spread  —  if they suit the agendas of the websites which share them.”

In fake news news:

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become the target of a flood of fake news stories, some apparently linked to Russia, BuzzFeed reports. Germany will have national elections in September. Facebook says it will roll out a fake news reporting feature to its German users in the coming weeks.
  • The Washington Post reports on comments made last winter by Russian cyberwarfare expert and senior Vladmir Putin adviser Andrey Krutskikh, in which he told a Moscow audience that Russia was about to make a breakthrough in information warfare that would be equivalent to the Russian adoption of nuclear weapons in 1949.
  • A Stanford University study argues that fake news probably didn’t affect the U.S. presidential election: “For fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads.”
  • “Fake news sells because fake news is what people want to be true,” Laurie Penny writes in the New Statesman. “Fake news generates clicks because people click on things that they want to believe.”
  • The New York Times interviews Cameron Harris, a 23-year-old Annapolis., Md. man who invented a fake story that claimed that thousands of ballots, pre-filled out for Hillary Clinton, had been found in a warehouse in Ohio. He took some care over the corroborative detail, making up names, dates and places. The story went viral, prompting an investigation, and denials, from Ohio’s secretary of state. (After the Times story came out, Harris lost his job as a legislative aide.)
  • Medium looks at the tens of thousands of news videos (really audio slideshows) made by bots and uploaded in bulk to Youtube, all with titles starting “A Tease … “. Jonathan Albright documented about 80,000, writing that “FakeTube is here, and AI-generated videos are probably being made faster than they can be identified.” Here’s what they look like:
  • And CNN is hiring a reporter for a full-time fake news beat (reporting on it, not creating it).