Fake news: Meet the alternate-reality version of the Quebec City shooting
Here’s a roundup of things that didn’t happen this week, or at any other time:
The Quebec mosque shooting was actually a ‘false flag’ attack carried out by militant Islamists.
The Quebec City mosque shooting happened as U.S. president Donald Trump’s ban against people from seven Muslim-majority countries took effect, causing havoc in airports in and outside of the United States, and triggering the first really big controversy of Trump’s new administration.
A significant terrorist attack carried out by a Muslim, particularly in a country whose prime minister has signaled willingness to accept more refugees in an apparently deliberate contrast to Trump, would have had its uses as a way of changing the narrative on a file the administration seemed to be mishandling.
As we know, that’s not what happened. Alexandre Bissonnette faces 11 charges in the attack, six of them for first-degree murder. Bissonnette, who is not a Muslim, has a record of far-right social media activity.
A second man, Mohamed Belkhadir, an engineering student originally from Morocco and a Muslim who was attending the mosque, was arrested Sunday. He was released the next day, and police said they considered him a witness and not a suspect.
This week in two online videos, Alex Jones of infowars.com and guest Matt Bracken, who Jones said is a former U.S. Navy Seal, did their best to cram a square peg into a round hole.
Bracken laid out a conspiracy theory — the core of which was that the attack was actually carried out by militant Islamists for propaganda purposes — as Jones listened approvingly: “You’re on to something big here. Break it down.”
Bracken’s full argument is tangled and hard to follow. Wonkette, a Washington-based politics blog, summarized it accurately as “George Soros paying off young Quebeçois men to convert to Islam while pretending to be Donald Trump supporters in order to do a false flag attack on a mosque, for the explicit purpose of getting people to not like Donald Trump supporters.”
If you want to watch the videos, which involve racism and the manipulation of tragedy for propaganda purposes,they are here and here. We were originally going to quote them at length, but decided the content was just too toxic.
Now, calling an incident a ‘false flag’ (an attack designed to misdirect observers about who the attacker is) is a convenient device. If A attacking B or A is helpful to your narrative, but what actually happened was that B attacked A, then it allows you to argue that B is actually A.
Jones frequently makes claims involving ‘false flags.’
Trump has praised Jones, saying in December of 2015, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” This week, infowars.com was offered White House press credentials. One of Jones’s videos on the Quebec City attacks had 41,000 views on Friday morning.
Off with his head!
It’s been many, many years since British monarchs have been able to simply dispatch people who annoyed them. The better part of a thousand years ago, Henry II sent knights to murder Thomas Becket, an archbishop who displeased him, but the resulting uproar forced him into a public penance that involved walking barefoot in sackcloth through the streets of Canterbury as monks flogged him, and then spending the night in a tomb.
Royal powers have become more restricted since then.
But when the Daily Mash (not a fake news site, but a satirical news site like the Onion) reported that the Queen legally could and possibly would personally chop off Donald Trump’s head at Buckingham Palace when he visits Britain this summer, it seemed to spark wild hopes in some circles.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet. I might,” she was quoted as saying.
However, it says something about the mood of the times that not everybody realized it was satire:
In fake news news:
- The Associated Press looks at how major brands unwittingly fund fake news: “Digital ads … can wind up in unexpected places because they’re placed by automated systems, not sales teams, and targeted at individuals rather than entire demographics. In effect, these ads follow potential customers around the web, where a tangle of networks and exchanges place them into ad slots at online publications. These middlemen have varying standards and levels of interest in helping advertisers ensure that their ads avoid controversy.”
- In The Atlantic, David Frum argues that fake news serves two functions for a would-be corrupt authoritarian: “By filling the media space with bizarre inventions and brazen denials, purveyors of fake news hope to mobilize potential supporters with righteous wrath — and to demoralize potential opponents by nurturing the idea that everybody lies and nothing matters … The inculcation of cynicism breaks down the distinction between those forms of media that try their imperfect best to report the truth, and those that purvey falsehoods for reasons of profit or ideology.” Frum’s whole piece, written from the perspective of an anti-Trump conservative, is well worth your time.
- The Columbia Journalism Review wonders if fake news has been exaggerated as a problem, pointing out that the fake news audience is only a tenth the size of the real news audience.
- Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman finds two cases of images of actors made up with fake blood as part of a role repurposed as people attacked by Trump’s opponents. He also looks at the complicated relationship between U.S.-based Donald Trump supporters and far-right social media in France.
- The Catholic news site Crux, spun off from the Boston Globe last year, has developed a niche beat looking at fake news related to Catholicism, NiemanLab reports. A fake story that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump (and another that he had endorsed Bernie Sanders) went viral during the U.S. election campaign.
- Up until recently, fake news has been aimed at conservatives. The Atlantic interviews Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski, who says that started to change after Trump’s inauguration, when she started to see more and more fake news sites designed to be shared by liberals. “There has been more coming from the left,” she says. “A lot of dubious news, a lot of wishful thinking-type stuff.”
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