Here’s a roundup of things that didn’t happen this week, or at any other time:
The media doesn’t report terrorist attacks, including the 2014 attacks in Canada.
The 2014 terrorist attack on Parliament Hill was many things.
Most importantly, it was tragic for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, murdered at the Cenotaph, whose death left his five-year-old son fatherless. It was also a powerful symbolic assault on the centre of Canada’s parliamentary democracy, which left the halls of Parliament pocked with bullet holes, and gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau dead in the Centre Block with 31 gunshot wounds.
About the last thing you could say about it, however, was that it was ignored by reporters – certainly not in Canada, where the media talked about little else for weeks, or by media outlets abroad. Here’s the New York Times front page the day of the attack, and the Guardian’s liveblog. At the end of 2014, it easily topped story-of-the-year lists.
It surprised many this week when U.S. President Donald Trump told a military audience in Florida that the media ignored terrorist attacks.
So reporters naturally asked the White House for a list of terrorist attacks that seemed to have been ignored. Officials produced a list of 78 attacks; any that happened in a First World country had been covered at great length, the Guardian reported, and nearly all had been at least mentioned.
On the White House list were the two 2014 terrorist incidents in Canada: the Parliament Hill attack and a vehicle attack in Quebec a few days before that killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53. Vincent’s death was hard to ignore – Global News has published 26 online stories that refer to him, plus at least four more stories about the attack before his name was released.
So given all that, it wasn’t clear where Trump’s claim could have been based on, until the Washington Post spotted a similar assertion on infowars.com, a far-right site that features conspiracy theories and angry, abrasive online video rants (turn the volume down before clicking) by founder Alex Jones.
Trump has praised Jones in the past, saying in December of 2015 in an appearance on the site, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Infowars has promoted a number of conspiracy theories over the years, most recently one we reported on last week that claims that the Quebec City mosque shootings were a ‘false flag’ attack perpetrated by Muslims. Jones has used his site to repeatedly claim that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were shot dead, was fabricated, a claim that has led parents of the murdered children to be threatened and harassed.
The Associated Press called Trump’s Florida claims “… just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups … Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another.“
The AP cited several other unfounded conspiracy theories touted by both Jones and Trump, such as the ‘birther‘ theory which held that former U.S. president Barack Obama was actually born outside the U.S. and not eligible to be president and the myth that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks.
In other fake news, news:
- Quartz takes two different approaches to photos of the inauguration (the new president triumphantly walking to the White House vs. a different angle that shows nearly empty viewing stands) to suggest four questions readers should ask when critically evaluating news photos.
- Facebook has been criticized for serving as a conduit for fake news. Anas Modamani, a Syrian refugee living in Germany took a selfie with German chancellor Angela Merkel last year; the image has since been used out of context in Facebook posts that accused him of links to terrorism. Modamani is suing Facebook for defamation in the German courts, arguing that the social network has the ability to screen for uses of the image and prevent them. At stake is Facebook’s level of responsibility for what users post on its network.
- Buzzfeed finds more signs that fake news isn’t just an issue on the right any more. “Given how concerned people are about the state of the country, on the left there’s more and more of a twitchy finger, if you will,” one senior Democrat said.
- Also in Buzzfeed: A look at how an MP’s motion calling for a study of Islamophobia sparked a cross-border fake news meme claiming that it was really about imposing Islamic law in Canada. (The claim was a very well-worn one in the United States applied to Obama, as a Google search for Obama impose sharia law shows.)
- British researchers have found a network of 350,000 dormant Twitter accounts, all created in a few days in 2013. They’ve tweeted a few times from Star Wars novels (text from different parts of the books, to avoid detection), and have been silent ever since. Who made them? Why? It’s not at all clear. “The discovery of this giant botnet raises important questions about the extent to which the Twitterverse has been infiltrated by bots that can influence the dynamics of conversations, opinions, and even elections,” Technology Review says. There is speculation that it might be for sale.
- Wikipedia is strongly discouraging editors from sourcing material from the Daily Mail, citing what they called the British tabloid’s “reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism, and flat-out fabrication.”
- The Columbia Journalism Review summarizes a debate this week at the NYC Media Lab where pessimists and optimists squared off on the resolution ‘We can solve the problem of fake news.’
- Britain’s defence minister, accusing Russia of “weaponizing misinformation,” says Western countries must “do more to tackle the false reality promoted through Soviet-style misinformation”.
- And French intelligence officials are concerned about Russian attempts to influence that country’s presidential election through disinformation.