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“Satire” And “Prank” Websites Are Being Weaponized As Fake News

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“Satire” And “Prank” Websites Are Being Weaponized As Fake News

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Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Websites that have branded themselves as “satirical” or as intending to “prank” people are contributing to the problem of fake news spreading on social media and elsewhere online, as their articles are picked up by users and fake news purveyors who present the false content as real. Some of these supposedly satirical pieces have even been used to smear people, including fallen soldier Sgt. La David Johnson.

Throughout the last year, fact-checking organizations have been forced to debunk numerous stories posted on websites that carry a disclaimer that they are “satirical.” Often, fake news purveyors will share these websites’ stories as if they are real, such as when American News pushed a story from a satirical blog claiming a Navy destroyer hit a Houston building due to flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Some of these “satirical” stories have also been shared on social media as seemingly real.

Perhaps no figure has been more guilty of masking fabricated stories as “satire” than Christopher Blair, a man who runs multiple websites that are supposedly satirical: Freedum Junkshun, As American As Apple Pie, Our Land of the Free, and, most prominently, The Last Line Of Defense (also known as The Resistance: The Last Line of Defense, or LLOD for short). Throughout the past year, fact-checkers (and Media Mattershave beenforced to rebut Blair’s stories so many times that PolitiFact wrote this summer, “If you’re fooled by fake news, this man probably wrote it” above a picture of Blair. And indeed, according to the social media analytics service BuzzSumo, many of Blair’s made-up stories have been shared by fake news purveyors, including those from Macedonia, a major hub for fake news writers. Thousands have engaged with these stories on social media, where people often have interpreted them as true (including Fox News host Sean Hannity). Blair, speaking to PolitiFact, claimed his aim has been “to mess with conservatives.” Despite acknowledging that other websites presented his stories as real, he dubiously claimed that “the average person … immediately understands” his stories are not real.

Since the interview, Blair has used his websites to target and smear Muslims in multiple pieces, falsely claiming that a Muslim man started the California wildfires, that a fictional Georgia mosque diverted aid from Hurricane Harvey victims, and that a Muslim football team owner has ties to ISIS. In one case, LLOD used an image of a Toronto-based imam to falsely claim that a Houston mosque refused to help Harvey victims, and other fake news purveyors shared the piece, forcing the imam to rebut it on TV. Many of these stories were spread via other fake news purveyors and, when shared on social media, were often taken as true.

On October 25, Freedum Junkshun published a piece smearing La David Johnson, an American soldier killed in Niger, as a deserter. When LLOD’s Facebook page (called “America’s Last Line of Defense”) shared the article, a user commented, “If true his mother and that bitch from Florida owes President Trump an apology,” to which the LLOD account responded, “THAT’S THE SPIRIT!” In response to Blair’s rampant misinformation campaign, Facebook has blocked users from sharing links from LLOD.

Fact-checkers this year have also been forced to rebut “prank” websites, which allow people to write their own stories and share them online. Even though these websites have disclaimers, their made-up stories have harmed the business of a London restaurantfooled the Kentucky AFL-CIO, and tricked thousands of people into believing that the FBI had announced evidence of collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, among others. And in some of those cases, the stories were interpreted on social media to be real.

There is a role for satire in our public discourse. The Onion, for instance, has become a widely popular website that entertains many people, often while making interesting or thought-provoking points. But there is a difference between parody and deception, and websites like The Last Line of Defense too often engage in the latter. Indeed, Michelle Amazeen, an assistant professor of mass communication at Boston University, told Snopesthat people don’t often note the disclaimers, and Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan has said that these websites seem “more like a way to make the other side look bad and/or make money while spreading misinformation” than like genuine satire.

And yet some who run the sites seem to be in denial. LLOD’s Facebook page attacked Snopes for writing a “hit piece” after it called out the Johnson article and quoted Blair as saying, “There are numerous quotes and posts our (sic) there covering my thoughts. Be a reporter and find them. I’m done giving interviews that turn into yet another article about what a jerk I am.” An LLOD writer told fact-checker Lead Stories that his site’s made-up stories were acceptable because of “multiple disclaimers” and said that “some blame needs to be assigned to the mouth-breathing, neanderthalic Trump fans who don’t care about facts in the most literal sense.” But contrary to their defenses, these “satire” websites and writers are simply injecting more misinformation into society, and are complicit in spreading fake news.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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5 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila October 28, 2017

    There are many names that can be used to describe the instruments used
    by white supremacists and other hate groups to demonize their targets
    and convey their evil message. Satirical is not one of them. Evil,
    such as what these “websites” convey, weakens our commitment to
    unconditional freedom of speech. Sadly, the existence of these
    communication mediums is likely to be a major contributor to the
    increase in racism and hate that is now tearing our society apart.

    Reply
    1. Independent1 October 28, 2017

      Dominick, let’s hope that the falling revenues and ratings at Fox are due to growing numbers of right-wingers starting to wake up to the dangers being posed to even their lives by the network’s constant outright lies and its support for a clearly divisive and dangerous president.

      Fox ‘News’ Ratings And Revenues Plummet As Network Enters Tailspin – October 27, 2017

      Statistics from the Standard Media Index, which tracks media income, show that ad revenues have plunged 17 percent at Fox in the month of September. In contrast, CNN, which Trump is fond of calling “fake news,” saw their ad revenue decline by just 1 percent. But the big winner was MSNBC, which reported an increase of 2 percent in ad billings.

      Overall, revenue for all cable news outlets was down an average of 7 percent for the entire third quarter (July, August, September) over the same period last year, according to Ad Week.

      One of the biggest losers on the ad front, when it came to personalities, was Sean Hannity. Advertisers began pulling ads from his nightly show shortly after he started peddling bogus conspiracy theories about the death of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was killed during a robbery in Washington, D.C. Fox News later issued a retraction of their story on the murder of Rich, but Hannity refused to relent, continuing to repeat lies about the death of Rich even though Seth’s parents begged him to stop.

      https://progressbulletin.com/politics/fox-news-ratings-and-revenues-plummet-as-network-enters-tailspin/

      And by right-wingers I’m including the leaders of the companies that pour ad revenues into Fox; leaders of companies that could end up suffering greatly if Trump truly does inflict some outright harm on our nation which creates an enormous backlash among the American people against the people and companies who have supported Trump.

      Reply
  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth October 28, 2017

    This should lead us to contemplate the reasons why so many white males are choosing so many routes of self-destruction by engaging in wreaking havoc, sowing seeds of doubt, complaining about erosion of their special privileges, an inordinate thirst for material well-being, and grabbing power.

    Could this accelerated proliferation of falsehoods, posting racist sentiments, and stridently supporting the GOP’s hidden and not so hidden agenda, be a natural cause-and-effect of racialist thinking, and obsession with social hierarchical ranking in order to preserve privilege?

    My guess is that for any conscious effort to assert dominance over others—socially and psychologically—there is an expected response to penalize this type of thinking and activities, just as there are natural laws in physics, like gravity, which exact a penalty when one decides to walk off the edge of a cliff. And the youth who are children of white males who think this way will naturally want to emulate this behavior, and thus ensuring American society that we will be plagued by future generations of racists and sowers of seeds of divisions inviting more instability in American affairs—-at home and abroad in the nation’s relationships with other mature nations(Russia and China excluded from this list for the time being).

    Reply
  3. dbtheonly October 28, 2017

    I am reminded though, that the Official Chinese News Agency picked up a story about a US Poll stating that Kim-Jon-un was the sexiest Leader in the world. They published the story even though it originally was published in the Onion.

    Satire can be a dangerous thing.

    Reply
    1. dtgraham October 29, 2017

      Un found that out. After the U.S. sexy poll came out, he officially banned satire in North Korea after N. Koreans started complimenting him on his haircut.

      Reply

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