Fake News for the Week Ending December 4, 2020

The blog took a week off for the American Thanksgiving holiday, but fake news kept on rollin’, primarily in the efforts of President Donald J. Trump and his remaining allies to cast doubt on the results of last month’s presidential election. Let’s get into that.

  • First, though, a reminder on why it’s important to distinguish between fake news and real news, between fiction and fact, between lies and the truth, from former president Barack Obama, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic:

If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work.

  • Now to Donald Trump and brazen claims that the election was fraudulent and he was the real winner, despite Joe Biden’s overwhelming 7 million vote popular vote lead, his 306-to-232 electoral vote victory, and the overwhelming lack of evidence of fraud or malfeasance. Without going into all of Trump’s wild assertions, I simply refer you to the 46-minute video he released to Facebook on Wednesday. (Facebook, to its credit, added a disclaimer to the video saying “voter fraud is extremely rare,” along with a link to its voting-information page, which says Biden won the election.)

    In this rambling “speech” (which Trump said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made“), Trump unleashed his most frequent rants, claiming (without any evidence, of course) that “corrupt forces” had stuffed ballot boxes with fraudulent votes and that the fraud was “massive” and “on a scale never seen before.” He urged the Supreme Court to “do what’s right for our country,” including terminating hundreds of thousands of votes so that “I very easily win in all states.” (Business Insider has all the disturbing details.)

    The response to Trump’s speech was uniformly negative, at least among the mainstream media. (Reality is always different at Fox News and other conservative media, of course.) Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, said that “it might be one of his most dishonest speeches he’s ever given.” CNN’s Jake Tapper said the video left Trump looking like the “sorest loser” in presidential history. And on and on, as detailed by the Independent.

    The reality is that Mr. Trump and his remaining allies are spewing forth the most blatantly dishonest political propaganda since the McCarthy era. Whether you call it propaganda, disinformation, fake news, or just outright lying, it is disturbing, delusional, and dangerous.

    I don’t know whether Trump truly believes these lies, is cravenly attempting to steal an election he honestly lost, or is just trying to raise more money (more than $207 million since the election, according to NPR), his claims that the election was rigged and the results fraudulent are extremely damaging to this country’s democracy. As former president Obama noted, if the public cannot distinguish between lies and the truth — and if that distinction is actively blurred by the president of the United States — then democracy doesn’t work.

    Trump’s lies, his conflating facts he doesn’t like with “fake news,” his rejection of reality, are destroying the fabric of this country. This is not the usual political nonsense. A Monmouth poll found that 77% of Trump supporters think that Biden’s win was due to fraud. If that many Americans refuse to accept the election results — and thus don’t accept the legitimacy of president-elect Biden — then where does that leave us? As this article in The Conversation points out, “Trump’s lies about the election show how disinformation erodes democracy.”

    This is why it’s important to fight fake news, propaganda, and conspiracy theories. The truth will set us free, if we can accept it.
  • Why are so many people susceptible to President Trump’s claims about voter fraud and reluctant to accept the election results? According to Donnagal Young, political psychologist and associate professor at the University of Delaware, “The short answer is that it has less to do with the content of the information and more to do with the social identity of the person. What’s driving some of these inclinations is about who these people feel they are, what groups they’re associated with, who they identify as and who they identify with.” The huge political divisions in the U.S. are sowing anger and distrust of the other side, which gives people an incentive to disbelieve their opponents and believe without question everything their side says. Read more from ABC News.
  • In other fake news news, Facebook banned several big pages that were spreading disinformation about the coming COVID-19 vaccine. Experts say that may be too little, too late. NBC News has the story.
  • Finally, how everybody’s favorite borderline-insane conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing real harm to child welfare groups. It’s all about how QAnon co-opted the very real issue of child abuse. Read about it from CNN.

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