Fake News for the Week Ending August 30, 2019

Not a lot happening in the world of fake news this week,  except for…

  • The late Jeffrey Epstein was guilty of a lot of despicable things, but the rumor that children’s bones have been found on his private island is pure make believe. The story circulated on various dubious websites claims that “FBI Divers Recover Human Bones Off Epstein ‘Orgy Island’.” This is as fake as fake news gets, and the repostings and links on social media have been effective at spreading what amounts to a modern conspiracy theory. There are a lot of things disgusting about Epstein, but this isn’t one of them. Snopes does the usual debunking.
  • On Tuesday Lawrence O’Donnell “reported” on his MSNBC show that “a source close to Deutsche Bank” had told him that “Russian oligarchs” had co-signed hundreds of millions of dollars of loans to Donald Trump. I put “reported” in quotes because O’Donnell is an opinion guy, not a hard news reporter. Also, this so-called story was what some might call “thinly sourced” – so thin that O’Donnell was forced to retract the story the very next night. Some are calling this fake news, but it’s more bad reporting or gossip than that. Maybe the story will turn out to be true, once it gets properly vetted; maybe it won’t. But this sort of half-assed wishful thinking gossip mongering from a figure at a major news outlet doesn’t do the legitimate media any favors. Like I said, it isn’t really fake news, but it’s easy to see why some might label it as such. Here’s the story at Salon.
  • Tech entrepreneur and writer Kalev Leetaru opines in Forbes that the reason fake news and deep fakes exist is because we tend to believe everything we see on the Internet. He waxes nostalgic for the days that gatekeepers like the New York Times and the network news vetted the news we see and didn’t let any of the fake stuff and conspiracy theories through. Can’t say I disagree with him, other that we are living in today’s world and there’s no going back. He wraps it up like this:

In the end, we would not have today’s issues with “fake news” or our fears about “deep fakes” if we did not believe what we see on the Web. The solution therefore is how to teach society to once again stop believing it everything it sees online. Most importantly, it is to teach a new generation the basics of information literacy that it seems to have forgotten.

  • Elon Musk’s OpenAI research firm just released an updated and improved version of its AI-powered GPT-2 synthetic language generator. (The Observer has the story here.) It works so well that it could easily be used to generate fake news stories. Try it yourself at talktotransformer.com; just enter a snippet of text and it spits out an entire news story. As an example, I entered the text “President Trump invades Greenland” and GPT-2 generated this (entirely fake) story:

President Trump invades Greenland. (White House, via AP)

On the day the president moved into the White House, a little-used area on Alaska’s eastern coast remained in the White House.

That’s because President Donald Trump has asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his team to protect that area of the Chukchi Sea during his planned visits to the region.

The request follows Trump’s decision earlier this month to withdraw from a 2014 plan that would allow sea ice to extend into the Chukchi Sea and create a shipping lane. It also follows last month’s news that, with little protest, Trump signed an executive order to withdraw the U.S. from a Paris climate agreement.

When Zinke moved to the Arctic, he immediately sent a letter — via a spokesman — asking the Interior and Interior Department’s Arctic program to review the Arctic program’s Arctic activities and work with the Navy to protect some portions of the Chukchi Sea that are in the way of oil and gas drilling.

White House spokesperson Ryan Jackson said the White House had no immediate comment


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