Fake News

Did CNN Blackmail The Trump/CNN Wrestling GIF Creator?

This is a 21st century story.  Future historians won’t be able to make sense of this.

So after Trump tweeted a GIF of himself in his days as an occasional WWE character tackling and beating a wrestler with the CNN logo edited onto his face….

… CNN found the Reddit user who initially created the image.  The same Reddit user, named HanAssholeSolo by the way, previously posted pictures of CNN staff with Stars of David next to their heads and the text “Something strange about CNN…can’t quite put my finger on it.”

The user apologized after CNN published the story saying they knew his identity.

The apology ended with a call for peace: “This is one individual that you will not see posting hurtful or hateful things in jest online. This is my last post from this account and I wanted to do it on a positive note and hopefully it will heal the controversy that this all caused.”

It didn’t.  

Why not? Because CNN said they wouldn’t publish his name due to his remorse, but that “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Trumpers said the apology was essentially forced by CNN’s “blackmail”. #CNNBlackmail was the top trending Twitter topic this morning, thanks to the efforts of a furious Trump Internet, who had concluded that HanAssholeSolo’s apology was forced by a “threat” from CNN.  The (untrue) news being circulated by Trumpers is that the meme creator is a 15 year old kid (CNN has confirmed that he is a grown man).

There is, I suppose, an ethical question of whether a news outlet should withhold the identity of a private citizen who posted extremely offensive things online on the apparent condition that they behave better in the future. CNN said there has been no agreement with the man at all, but Trumpers insist the “extortion” is inferred.  I personally don’t have a problem with it.

Sure, the optics of it look bad. It looks like a multi-billion dollar corporation is dangling a potentially damaging story over a private individual unless he cooperates is where the network runs into trouble. Were CNN to simply explained why it wasn’t publishing the identity of the user, without adding a caveat that the network “reserves the right” to change its mind later, this wouldn’t have been a story.

But as Think Progress says:

First things first: Posting things online that you don’t want associated with your name—whether because they are stupid, racist, or just plain embarrassing—is generally not a great idea. Only the most careful of internet users can avoid detection by online sleuths, and there is no right to privacy if you are posting things publicly.

Secondly, racists, sexists, anti-Semites and other bigots are not entitled to anonymity just because they are private citizens. Most trolls aren’t as lucky as HanAssholeSolo: Their names are typically plastered across the internet, and quickly find themselves out of a job and unemployable by anyone with enough wherewithal to run a Google search on applicants. Employers—to say nothing of friends and family—arguably have a right to know about an individual’s judgment in widely sharing their personal beliefs online.

There is some irony here, considering that President Donald Trump himself was recently accused of blackmailing MSNBC personalities Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (an accusation that seems to have the left some trolls unmoved).

But the meme that Trump supporters have picked up and spread is a mix of fact and fiction, and it seems an odd thing for Trumpers to hang their hat on.  Not only are the hostile toward actual REAL news, but they are hostile when actual REAL news exposes those who are hostile.  These people do not like the light.

This should be the final word:

The New O’Keefe Video

So, the White House spokesman wants people to watch a video even though she doesn’t know if it is accurate.  How’s that for devotion to the truth?

The video is by James O’Keefe, and it is itself about the truth.  But O’Keefe and his outfit, Project Veritas, have been known to use slick editing procedures to distort the truth, rather than expose it.  Let’s see what O’Keefe has this time.

Interesting. What O’Keefe, who has been hit with a $1 million conspiracy lawsuit, doesn’t tell you is that Bonifield has held many positions at CNN, most recently serving as a supervising producer for CNN Health, a position he has held since 2015.

CNN Health.

Other than that, there’s not much there there.

Does CNN’s coverage drive its ratings? I’m sure it does.  Just like as Fox.

Is the Trump-Russia collusion things bullshit?  This CNN supervisor says it could be.  And you know what? IT COULD BE.

But isn’t that why we have an investigation?  Isn’t that the point?

The opinion of a CNN Health producer means nothing.  You know who doesn’t think the Russia investigation is “a hoax”? The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the DNI, the House Intel Committee, the Senate Intel Committee, and Robert Mueller.

Is WikiTribune The Answer To “Fake News”?

Nieman Lab:

Good things can happen when a crowd goes to work on trying to figure out a problem in journalism. At the same time, completely crowdsourced news investigations can go bad without oversight — as when, for example, a group of Redditors falsely accused someone of being the Boston Marathon bomber. An entirely crowdsourced investigation with nobody to oversee it or pay for it will probably go nowhere. At the same time, trust in the media is low and fact-checking efforts have become entwined with partisan politics.

So what would happen if you combined professional journalism with fact checking by the people? On Monday evening, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launched Wikitribune, an independent site (not affiliated with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation) “that brings journalists and a community 
of volunteers together” in a combination that Wales hopes will combat fake news online — initially in English, then in other languages.

The site is launching with a crowdfunding campaign to fund the first Wikitribune journalists (the default amount is $10 a month, but users can donate any amount they wish) “with the first issue of Wikitribune following shortly.” The Wikitribune page said that the goal is to hire 10 journalists.

The idea is that the professional journalists will be paid to write “global news stories,” while volunteer contributors will “vet the facts, helps make sure the language is factual and neutral, and will to the maximum extent possible be transparent about the source of news posting full transcripts, video, and audio of interviews. In this way Wikitribune aims to combat the increasing proliferation of online fake news.”

The Wiki concept is always interesting, but the old adage of computers remains true: “garbage in, garbage out”.  Crowdsourcing, as the article suggests, is not necessarily the best way to get at truths, and we just had an election where huge percentages of people swallowed false news line and hook.  So just how will WikiTribune deal with this?  Described above, it just sounds like professional journalists being edited by, well, everybody.  A lot of sniping about semantics.

And even if the changes are substantive, at what point in the never-ending editing and rewriting process does an article cease to be by the person who originally wrote it? The answer to this question will have to be reflected in WikiTribune’s design. If the model is anything like Wikipedia’s page history, the level of transparency that is necessary can make it incredibly time-consuming for readers to synthesize the true source of what they’re reading.

And suppose journalist Jones quotes Congressman Smith, and Congressman Smith wants to retract? Or alter slightly the words he said? He can just go into Wikitribune and edit.  And who is to say who is right?

Still, Wikipedia, despite having accuracy problems here and there, does actually self-correct over time, and that’s a good starting model. The question is whether or not “news” has the time for that kind of self-correction before it stops being news.

 

More Fake News Believers Getting Violent

This is getting out of hand:

A Tampa woman is accused of making death threats to the parent of a first grader who died in the Sandy Hook massacre.

Investigators say 57-year-old Lucy Richards is among those who believe the 2012 shooting, that killed 20 children and 6 adults, was all a hoax. Her disbelief is so strong, investigators say she targeted a father who lost his child in the shooting. That man now lives on the east coast of Florida.

According to the indictment ,Richards contacted the father four times on January 10, saying things like, “You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon,” “there’s nothing you can do about it,” and “look behind you, death is coming to you real soon.”

Richards was arrested Monday. She is charged with four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce. With each count carrying a maximum of five years in prison, she could spend 20 years behind bars, if convicted.

Richards is not alone in her beliefs. There’s a whole online community of people certain the Sandy Hook shooting was staged.

She is the second person this week facing criminal charges due to conspiracy theories. Sunday, Edgar Welch was arrested for bringing a gun  inside a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. He told police he was there to self-investigate a child trafficking ring he read about on a website, which has since been discredited and labeled “fake news.”

Psychologist Dr. Mark Prange says it’s often a long-term emotional habit of not using reasoning makes people cling so tightly to conspiracy theories.

“The story is going to always be more powerful than the logic,” Prange said. “Not using a process that says, what are the checks and balances of the beliefs I am holding to and not being open that allows the belief system to get locked into almost a delusional way of looking at the world.”

He says trying to help someone locked into an extreme belief system can be challenging, “because that belief may be more important or may be so threatening for them to face why they’re holding it.”

Prange said, “It can snowball if one has not had educational experiences or family experiences or even social experiences where their beliefs are challenged.”

Lucy Richards’ next hearing is December 19.

And speaking of Edgar Welch, here is the federal complaint released today.  Edgar Welch is the man who fired an assault rifle in a D.C. pizzeria earlier this month.  From the complaint, we learn that he allegedly recruited two other individuals to join in his investigation of patently false claims that the restaurant was the center of a child sex slave ring connected to the Clintons.  Welch texted several friends attempting to convince them to drive up to Washington, D.C., with him to check out Comet Ping Pong. He texted one friend, identified in the document as “B,” a link to a YouTube video about “Pizzagate” and included the note “Watch PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture on YouTube.” Another friend, identified as “C,” initially thought his pal intended to drive to North Dakota to “save the Indians from the pipeline,” but Welch clarified with the texts: “Way more important, much higher stakes” and “Pizzagate.” C wrote back: “Sounds like we r freeing some oppressed pizza from the hands of an evil pizza joint.” Welch replied by encouraging his friend to watch a YouTube video about “Pizzagate.” Ultimately, the two friends did not join Welch on his quest. The document also shows that Welch was prepared to kill, telling C that the mission would involve “sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many.”

UPDATE: Alex Jones seems to be cleaning up after himself by scrubbing his website of Pizzagate references:

“Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture” is the headline Infowars used for a December 1 article promoting a video from Infowars producer Jon Bowne that pushes the pizzagate conspiracy theory. Jones tweeted the headline on December 1. The headline was also used on YouTube by a non-Infowars accounts to promote the Infowars video.

Welch also told The New York Times that he listens to Jones, and he reportedly liked Infowars on Facebook.

Jones and Infowars appear to be scrubbing commentary about pizzagate. Jones’ YouTube channel posted a November 23 video headlined “Pizzagate Is Real: Something Is Going On, But What?” The video has since“been removed by the user,” though it’s not clear when.

The Power Of Fake News

This morning, Trump got on Twitter (you know this doesn’t end good, right?) and tweeted this:

P.S. (although it really is another story unto itself) Trump sent out this tweet 20 minutes after this story – a Chicago Tribune story where the Boeing CEO criticized Trump — first appeared.

And what happened?

A 137-character tweet from President-elect Donald Trump could be costing Boeing Co. shareholders more than $550 million, as Wall Street got a firsthand look at how easily an incoming commander in chief can move markets.

Boeing’s stock was down 86 cents, or 0.6%, in midday trade, paring an earlier loss of as much as 1.4%. Based on 647.9 million shares outstanding as of Sept. 30, according to the aerospace giant’s third-quarter report, that implies about $557.2 million was lopped off Boeing’s market capitalization.

Trump tweeted that an order for Boeing to build a new Air Force One should be canceled because costs had risen to over $4 billion, which would be well more than double earlier budget estimates.

Trump didn’t just tweet about the order. He told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, where he works and lives, that the building of the plane was “totally out of control,” as costs were spiraling, according to ABC News.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number,” Trump said. “We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”

Such is the power of inaccurate information.  The $4 billion figure, by the way, is totally fictional.  Nobody knows where Trump got that number from.

“We are currently under contract for $170 million to determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States,” Boeing said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Boeing had secured the contract in January to start work on the 747-8 jumbo jets that would replace the planes used as Air Force One beginning early next decade. Although the Pentagon didn’t disclose the expected cost of the two new planes, earlier budget estimates put the cost at more than $1.6 billion.

But that didn’t stop the plunge.

And this is what happened — in an instant — when false information was spread.

But it is not just markets, it’s lives.  Literal lives.

Let’s talk about fake news.  For several months, there has been a “scandal” brewing that barely deserves mentioning, except for the fact that it is a prime example of what can happen when fake news is circulated and believed. (Actually, the election of Trump is also a great example of the consequences of fake news, but there were other factors involved there).

The scandal is called “Pizzagate” and boils down to this: Bill and Hillary Clinton were – and still are — operating a child prostitution ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington DC.

Yeah, I know.  I know.  Common sense alone would make you reject this one out of hand, but we live in post-truth times now.  And lots of people still believe it.  Like this guy:

Harmless?  Nope.  The tweet above is from Michael Flynn, Jr., son of General Michael Flynn Sr., who Trump recently appointed as his national security adviser.  The senior Flynn is no novice when it comes to tweeting fake news himself, like this one relating to spirit cooking (a sort of forerunner of the pizzagate scandal):

General Flynn is also the author of other troubling tweets:

So we have a national security adviser and his son (a son who, until recently was on the Trump transition team) who are re-tweeting fake news about a fake scandal.  Given the clout these guys have, plus the fact that some morons will believe anything they hear on the Internet, THIS is what happens:

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington. Welch, who said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place, fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant on Sunday injuring no one, police and news reports said. (Sathi Soma via AP)

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington. Welch, who said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place, fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant on Sunday injuring no one, police and news reports said. (Sathi Soma via AP)

Edgar Maddison Welch allegedly believed he was liberating “child sex slaves” kept in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant when he entered the building with two guns on Sunday afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint released Monday, the North Carolina man told police that he “had read online” that Comet Ping Pong was the center of a child trafficking ring and “that he wanted to see for himself if they were there.” Welch had brought along an AR-15 assault rifle and a .38 caliber handgun to “help rescue them,” he allegedly told police.

He now faces several gun-related charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and openly carrying a weapon without a license. The Washington Post reported that D.C. Magistrate Judge Joseph E. Beshouri on Monday ordered Welch to remain in jail until his next hearing on Thursday after U.S. Attorney Sonali Patel cautioned he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Friends of Welch, a periodically employed father of two young girls, told the Post that they were surprised that he became so personally invested in investigating an online conspiracy theory that holds that Democratic Party operatives are running a pedophilia and human trafficking ring from the Comet restaurant. The fabricated story, known as “Pizzagate” and targeted at Hillary Clinton and her allies, was ignited by fringe social media users. It was then heavily circulated by fake news publications and conspiracy sites.

Comet Ping Pong’s owners have received a steady stream of death threats and harassing phone calls since the bizarre tale began circulating online in late October. Other establishments on Connecticut Avenue, a popular shopping street in Northwest D.C., have also been targeted by protesters and threatening phone calls.

Welch did not elaborate further on his motive in the courtroom on Monday, according to the Post, saying only his name when asked to identify himself.

He surrendered to law enforcement gathered outside the restaurant after he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored” inside.

Fortunately, no guns were fired and nobody was killed.  But it does make you wonder how long it will be before people die because of fake news.