The Miami Gazette, one of a family of sites that are named as might-be-real-but-it’s-not newspapers like the Baltimore Gazette and the Denver Guardian, recently ran an item that started off as a routine police-blotter item (cops responding to a noise complaint, an address, names, ages) but which took a dark turn:
“The responding officers told reporters that the house had been extremely dark, cluttered, and an overwhelming smell (which was later identified as decomposing flesh) filled the home.”
“Three men, which have since been identified as 62-year-old William Provost, 51-year-old Dennis Ratcliff, and 36-year-old Michael Dore were sitting in a circle on the basement’s concrete floor and ritualistically chanting while eating what police initially believed was an animal carcass, but was later identified as human remains.”
“I find human flesh to be the only thing that cures my type-2 diabetes and chronic depression,” one of the cannibals explained to responding officers. “If expensive pharmaceutical drugs helped, I would figure out a way to obtain them, but they don’t, so I stick to what works for me.”
Also, the house was kind of a mess, though it has to be said that neat-freak cannibals would be creepy in a different kind of way.
The three ” largely remained under the radar due to their practice of targeting and befriending homeless drifters they met at small dive-bars located upwards of 100-miles from their Vernal Heights residence,” the Miami Gazette told its readers.
The story (as you may have guessed, since you’re reading it under a fake news tag) is fiction. Politifact connects the dots: Vernal Heights, Fla. is not a place; the photos in the story were gathered from all over the Web; one of the men in the mug shot was arrested in Georgia, though it’s not clear where the others came from. However, the story has 254,000 Facebook likes overall, Politifact says, so presumably it was worth a couple of hours of someone’s time, at least from a business point of view.
h/t to Politifact.
In fake news news:
- Buzzfeed gets action! The digital news site was the first to report that the obscure town of Veles, Macedonia was the centre of an unlikely fake news industry. Recently, Facebook appears to be quietly cracking down, removing dozens of Macedonian fake news sites. The change of heart seems to have been sparked by Christopher Blair, a right-wing site operator based in Maine who says that Macedonians constantly steal his content, and has been pressuring Facebook to do something about it. (In a plot twist, Blair called Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman an ‘asshole’ for describing his own site as fake news.)
- NATO countries, including Canada, are beefing up their military presence in the Baltic states, and, inevitably, fake news about it has escalated as well:
- The Atlantic Council documents a report, based on a faked screenshot of a U.S. Department of Defence press release, that a B-52 had accidentally bombed an apartment building in Latvia (we’ve written before about why you can’t trust screenshotted tweets).
- And as Canadian troops arrive in Latvia, Latvians are seeing fake news reports about them. One report, which shows at least some awareness of Canadian news, features ex-air force colonel and serial killer Russell Williams.
- Can fake news lead to war? It already has, the War on the Rocks blog points out. The Spanish-American War, in which the U.S. took over what was left of the tottering Spanish empire in 1898, was largely based on fabrications published by unscrupulous U.S. newspapers. (A disputed but revealing story claims that The artist Frederic Remington, sent to Cuba by publisher William Randolph Hearst to cover the war, cabled to say that there was no war. “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war,” Hearst cabled back.) “Fake news might seem like a “new” issue, but it most certainly is not,” WOTR points out.
- The Grenfell Tower fire attracted cynical opportunists in a way that was predictable, given similar patterns in the recent past, but still depressing. Buzzfeed has a roundup: ‘missing people’ who may or may not exist and in any case aren’t missing; claims firefighters were nearly two hours late; inflated death tolls.
- Elections in the U.S. and several European countries have been targeted by large-scale fake news efforts. Is Canada next? The Communications Security Establishment, a secretive federal government organization, looked at the possibility in a report this week. It can’t be ruled out, they wrote: “Adversaries could use social media to spread lies and propaganda to a mass audience at a low cost. Adversaries could masquerade as legitimate information providers, blurring the line between what is real and what is disinformation.” However, our low-tech election process itself, based on hand-counted paper ballots, seems not very vulnerable to disruption, CSE says.
- Columbia University’s journalism school hosted an event last week on artificial intelligence in journalism. AI has the potential for giving news consumers news tailored to them, but, the CJR points out, “Personalization also challenges the concept of news as a public record. If we each see the same basic story, but tailored to our age, gender, or cultural touchstones, there is no single story to archive, and therefore no single history of a given event.”
- Every now and again we see that sports reporters don’t seem to have their guards up for fabricated news as much as their hard-news colleagues. An example came up this week, when the sports sections of a number of mainstream news outlets uncritically published a report that the Golden State Warriors had refused to appear at the White House after clinching the NBA title. (Last December, several sports reporters went with a story about a stadium in Minneapolis being opened to the homeless that turned out to be fabricated.)
- Does chocolate milk come from brown cows? Some of it does, of course, in that some dairy cows are brown. (Chocolate syrup gets added at some point between the cow and the consumer.) But do 7 per cent of U.S. consumers think that chocolate milk is brown because of the brownness of the cows? It was too tempting a talking point to pass up for some media outlets, leading naturally to a discussion of public ignorance of agriculture. But the trouble is that the survey they cited doesn’t show that in any clear way. CJR blows the whistle.
- The Tablet published a spirited attack on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, charging that “the social-media mega-giant is destroying the economic, sociological, and cultural foundations of legitimate journalism in America.”
- The Tablet also has a take on Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. election: Moscow did intervene in the election, but with the goal of weakening a President Hillary Clinton, whose victory they saw as inevitable. They didn’t expect Trump to win any more than most Western observers did, and they’re not sure what happens next. “It is tempting to assume the Russians are now sitting back, eating popcorn, and watching the unfolding drama in America with glee. And yet, truth be told, they are worried.”
- The Knight Foundation had funded 20 projects aimed at curbing fake news with grants of $50,000 each. Poynter has the list of winners, and brief summaries of what they plan to do with the money.
- On the other hand, Wired argues, fighting fake news can’t be completely automated: ” … given the limitations of how well software can understand language, the best thing machine learning could do right now is help people tracking fake news work faster.”
- Wired also has a very sobering long read about how successful Russian hackers have been in disrupting Ukraine’s power grid. Observers look at the sabotage uneasily, fearing that Ukraine is only a testing area for techniques that may be used on the West, and that they only hint at the attackers’ true capabilities.
- A report from security software company Trend Micro looks at the fake news economy, and the online markets that will rent out mercenary bot armies (1,000 group joins for 650 rubles, or US$11), cheat online polls, generate fake comments in bulk and generate dislikes Youtube videos, if that’s what the client wants.
- Politico has a deep dive into Russian fake news, phishing and trolling tailored for members of the U.S. military. ” … the Russian military hackers who breached the (Democratic National Committee) appear to expend as much effort on current and former military personnel as on political targets.”
- Hundreds of grumpy Texas conservatives, some heavily armed, turned out in Houston earlier this month to protect a statue of Sam Houston, the city’s namesake, from being pulled down. It was a strange use of effort, since nobody had actually proposed to — the group was being trolled by fake reports on Facebook.
- Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel looks at the strange, obsessive world of people who compete to have the first reply to one of Donald Trump’s tweets.
- Abused online? You can have your tormentor’s words iced on a cake and sent to them: