Products at the grocery store are “Certified organic” or “Made with 100 percent real dairy butter.”
Maybe we need something like that for news.
I had this brilliant idea after reading – in an actual newspaper (you know … the foldy thing that stains your fingers) – about the 1,000 Internet trolls the Russians may have unleashed upon American voters in an attempt to damage Hillary and help The Donald win the White House.
Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said recently the evidence suggests the Russians were particularly focused on swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania where people were “reading during the waning days of the election that “‘Clinton is sick,’ or ‘Clinton is taking money from whoever for some source’ … fake news.”
It sounds impossible that fake news could possibly make a difference in such big states. But, remember, Trump only won Michigan by 10,704 votes, and that’s a pittance when you consider 4,799,284 total votes were cast, including 172,136 for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, who was the popular “protest” vote against Hillary and Trump. (Still feel proud, folks?)
There were also the 10,386 souls who voted for Evan McMullin, an independent, and Emilio Soltysik, the Natural Law Party’s candidate. (Just for fun, I looked up the Natural Law Party. They were founded in 1992 on the principles of Transcendental Meditation, the laws of nature, and their application to all levels of government. A meditation-based government sounds kind of interesting, actually. Oooohm.)
So, OK, it’s clearly possible fake news could have affected the outcome in Michigan. (Whether it did or not, we’ll never know.) And if it could have happened here, maybe it could have happened in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And if it happened in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it could happen anywhere again in future elections.
Assuming that’s true, maybe it would behoove us as a nation to clarify what’s real news and what’s not. I’m not sure how we’d do that exactly, but if we can figure out a way to certify butter, we certainly can figure out a way to certify news, news organizations and news reporters. (I can tell you right now, my list would not include Fox, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, CNN or MSNBC.)
If we do, though, no one should assume that’ll fix the whole problem.
Trump, I figure, wasn’t elected solely because of too much fake news but because not enough people consumed enough real news. (Or, maybe, they just liked the guy. There’s no accounting for taste.)
The Internet is partly to blame. It gutted journalism. According to the Niemann Lab, there were about 56,400 newsroom jobs in 2000. Now there are just 33,000.
That’s a whole lot less real news and a mighty big information void. Something was bound to fill it. The Russians took advantage and filled it at a critical moment with the empty calories of fake news.
And we gulped it down with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
That’s our fault, by the way, not theirs. They just did what enemies do. We’re to blame. We’re the ones who fell for it. We could have read, watched and listened to those credible news sources that still remain. But we chose not to. Enough of us, anyway. So as the cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The consequences are ours.
Want to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Get off of Facebook and read a newspaper or watch the network news.
Oh, and make sure to look for the “Certified real” label.
Image credit: DonkeyHotey