If a grab bag of dodgy sites are to be believed, the Obamas live much more exciting lives now than they ever did in the White House. Consider:
- As he prepared to leave office, one site claimed, Obama incited troops to mutiny against incoming President Trump: “Obama URGES Soldiers to Do the Unthinkable to Trump,” blared angrypatriotmovement.com. In fact, Obama (still president at the time) had made a fairly generic statement about freedom of speech, praising, ” … the universal right to speak your mind and to protest against authority, to live in a society that’s open and free, that can criticize a President without retribution.”
- In late December, Sasha Obama was allegedly bought a used Bugatti Veyron for a Christmas present and shortly thereafter drove it into a pond at 90 miles an hour. The story checks many of the boxes of a classic fake news account, citing the Washington Times-Herald (which does exist — in Washington, Ind.), linking to the site’s front page, not to the story, which doesn’t exist.
- On New Year’s Day, another dodgy site published a vivid account of Michelle Obama’s arrest for domestic violence, claiming that “The Secret Service, forced to draw their weapons until waved off by a higher authority, found themselves being told to stand down by former president Obama himself, who told investigators that he ‘just wanted the episode to be over.'”
- On Jan. 9, a story claimed that the four officers of the Obama Foundation had been indicted, and, among other things, that “… the warehouse they pay for was being used as an illegal poker room.”
- Much of the most ambitious fabrication was an account of a U.S. commando raid on “an Obama-controlled stronghold in Thailand,” clearly crafted by someone nourished on action movies. The story is packed with operational detail, involving a shell company that the former president was using to hide ill-gotten taxpayers’ money, a secret source in the Secret Service, and finally a 3 a.m. helicopter raid “including decoy craft.” In a twist, however, Obama — or his co-conspirators — had just left, leaving “freshly chopped vegetables and lukewarm coffee in the kitchen.” Tune in next week …
h/t Snopes, Politifact
What’s going on here? We get the sense of a hate machine that suffers somewhat from having run out of enemies (with control of the White House and both houses of Congress), and would be much happier in opposition.
Another, perhaps less flexible, tries to squeeze a few more outrage clicks out of Democrats who in the past had been in or near the White House — though you’d think that Hillary Clinton’s email server, for example, was exhausted as a subject.
In fake news news:
- Facebook recently announced changes to its news feed, emphasizing more content from friends and family, and “less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.” “The worry for publishers is that such an approach will have the unintended consequence of hurting high-quality content because a lot of legitimate news articles, while they may get read, tend not to get shared or commented on,” says Digiday. “Many publishers have already noticed a decrease in organic Facebook traffic over the last year or so. Still, Thursday’s news probably cancels the plans of anyone who’d thought they were going to build a business on Facebook traffic,” the Nieman Lab warns. Vice argues that it may be a good thing in the long run: “A news media whose existence relies on a centralized portal is subject to the whims of that portal. And a society that relies on a centralized portal to get its news may very well be doomed.”
- In the Toronto Star, filmmaker and activist Marcus Kolga warns that RT (formerly Russia Today) is available to six million cable subscribers in Canada, and that the ” … confusion and discord (it aims) to promote, here in Canada and elsewhere, represents a serious challenge to our democracy, institutions and values.” Kolga’s portrayal of RT seems fair as far as it goes — nobody watching it should see it as anything other than a propaganda arm of the Russian state — but his analysis seems out of date: any Canadian with internet access can stream RT all day if they want.
- The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab looks at what RT itself says about its mission: “Statements by RT’s editor-in-chief in 2012–13, covering earlier years, indicate that the station’s mission and philosophy are not journalistic but military. They quote editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan: “The information weapon, of course, is used in critical moments … It’s a weapon like any other.”
- In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum summarizes a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report titled, “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe.” It ” … tells a bleak story of constant, ongoing attempts to disrupt politics and economics in all of the United States’ most important European allies, over many years,” Applebaum writes. She laments the lack of U.S. leadership. “So far, the United States has not stepped up to the challenge of this new world in any way. So distorted are our own politics by a president who refuses to acknowledge his links to Russia that Republican members of the Senate committee refused to sign on to this pedantic, well-documented and thoroughly unsensational report.”
- Finland holds presidential elections in a few weeks, and hundreds of Finnish-themed Twitter bots have emerged recently, following the main candidates. What are they designed to do? We have yet to find out.
- U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster says the U.S. has noticed Russian “subversion and disinformation and propaganda” in the Mexican presidential campaign, Business Insider reports.
- French president Emmanuel Macron wants to ban “fake news” during election periods. Predictably, the devil is in the details. “From a legal point of view, it’s not easy to define what fake news is,” this analysis at The Conversation points out. Also, ” … the freedom of expression question refuses to go away.” The Atlantic has a similar take.
- Wired fears that fake news spread by anti-vaccination online subcultures could lead to epidemics. (Last week, we linked to an analysis of anti-vaccination groups on Facebook, which is worth a look.)
- ICYMI: How well can you do on Buzzfeed’s fake news quiz? (Full disclosure: I got an embarrassing 4/7.)
- At Gizmodo: Facebook has registered a patent for technology that would track digital photos to the individual device that took them by looking at tiny flaws caused by dust and scratches on the lens.
- Earlier this week, the British defence think-tank Chatham House warned that cyberattacks on poorly secured nuclear weapons control systems could lead to “inadvertent nuclear launches,” which is quite a phrase. Since the weapons might be aimed at the adversary behind the cyberattack, this seems unlikely; more plausibly, an adversary could disrupt the control system to the point of making it unusable, neutralizing its deterrent value.
- Canada scores highest in a survey of 38 countries where people were asked if “news organizations … are doing well at reporting different positions on political issues fairly.”
- “It’s no secret that Fox News … (has) outsize influence on the inner workings of how certain policies are carried out by the U.S. government,” former CIA officer Aki Peritz argues in the Washington Post. “When Fox News broadcasts, the president often reacts impulsively.” That makes the network a logical target for any number of foreign intelligence agencies who may want to influence what seems to be an unfiltered feed into Trump’s brain. “Compared to government workers, Fox employees would make easy targets … Most wouldn’t expect to be compromised by a hostile intelligence power, especially on American soil.”
- Called on his 2015 claim that “there are politicians that are being burned” in the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, Trump’s new U.S. ambassador to that country, first called the report “fake news.” This was very easily refuted, so Hoekstra said he wanted to “move on.” The next act: an excruciating press conference at the U.S. embassy in The Hague in which reporters refused to stop asking about the comments, and Hoekstra refused to answer questions about them.
- In the New Statesman: an exploration of the Reddit culture around the ’90s movie ‘Shazzam,’ in which hundreds of people share fond memories of it, in encyclopedic detail, down to the colour on the VHS box. One problem: the movie never existed.
- Poynter weighs in on the study of fake news in the U.S. 2016 election that we linked to last week. “Fake news has a relatively large audience, but it went deep with only a small portion of Americans. Fact-checkers also draw large audiences but don’t seem to bring the corrections to those who most need to read them,” Alexios Mantzarlis concludes.