Yesterday, in my casual scroll through my FB feed, I saw a post from a woman I know, and I clicked on it. This woman is someone who usually posts about race, about spirituality, about ways we should live better together as human, about how she feels when people show her how incapable they are of living well together as humans. She also posts a fair amount of live commentary on these topics. She posts funny things from time to time, but when I see her in my feed, I have come to expect a post that has some weight, that will hit on some points that will make me think or share some information I’ll find interesting.
The piece I clicked on yesterday, however, disturbed me. She had posted a link to a piece about the death of George Zimmerman (let’s be clear right now: Zimmerman is NOT dead). I hadn’t been listening to the news — where I assume I’d have heard that story if it was a real story — so I was surprised and clicked through to see what had happened to him. I didn’t read the piece. I didn’t need to. As soon as the link opened, the banner across the page read “Create a Prank!” So the “article” was supposed to be a joke, supposed to sucker us in and then say, “Gotcha!” when we reached the end.
Never mind whether it’s funny to make jokes about people’s deaths (I leave the Kathy Griffin argument on the side for now). This site disturbed me because it encourages people to make fake news … for fun. Now, the site covers its ass by proclaiming that I am 100% wrong. At the bottom of the page is this note: “We do NOT support FAKE NEWS!!! This is a Prank website that is intended for Fun. Bullying, Violent Threats or posts that Violate Public Order are NOT permitted on this Website.” Duly noted. Maybe that means no one can sue you. But you’ve set up a site that creates news-like content for people to post on social media. That would seem to be the textbook definition of fake news.
We are living in a moment when we are actively encouraged to distrust the press, when THOTUS and his masters and minions¹ tell us daily that the press is our enemy and cannot be trusted, when actual purveyors of fake news are given stronger platforms from which to spew their filth. And into this toxic soup someone thinks it’s a good idea to introduce a prank site that will make the fake facts that much easier to produce.
I’m sure many people will use this site to make silliness that will amuse their friends and make for a slew of great comments. Which will be harmless because folks’ friends will be able to tell right off that the “article” is fake, is meant to be funny.
But then there are folks who will use it to make headlines about George Zimmerman’s death, headlines that will catch our attention because they are about people or events that aren’t joking matters. And there are the folks who will use it to make headlines to further their conspiracy theories or insane claims about one political party or another, about one country or another, about one religious group or another.
And maybe that would be fine if people would be able to tell even without clicking the link that they’re being pranked. But the prank “article” is attributed to “Channel 45 News” and, as an FB share, looks the way most shared news links look. As long as the headline and accompanying photo aren’t too outlandish, the prank article will look pretty real. And given the numbers of people who just read headlines and keep scrolling, that could be a problem.
I’m actually not interested in being a killjoy, in keeping folks from having wacky fun with fake news. I just question if this is the time for such wacky fun. When THOTUS and his masters and minions are working hard to make us disbelieve everything we hear from major news outlets, is this really the right moment for adding straight up lies to anyone’s timeline? I vote no.
Public trust in the media has been severely damaged, and nonsense like this won’t help right that ship. I’m not a big flag-waver for the media in general — there are so many things that need fixing, so many ways the media needs to try harder and be better — but we need an independent press. Period. It’s one of the things we’ve always chosen to brag about in relationship to the state-controlled presses in other places. And yet here we are, with a government that is hell bent on driving our somewhat-independent press into the ground.
Do I think this prank site will ring the death knell of real news? No. Of course not. But it’s not helping. There are people in this country who can hear a “news” story about Hillary Clinton running a child slavery ring out of a pizza shop and show up strapped, ready to rescue the babies. I mean. When this is who we are, we shouldn’t be playing with fire.
¹ THOTUS is still Titular Head of These United States, but I’ve added in his coterie of evil because it’s not enough to only point my finger at him.
I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … except that I’m WAY behind! I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.