Fake News for the Week Ending December 11, 2020

Propaganda, conspiracy theories. and outright lies about the recent presidential election are spreading like wildfire. In the world in which we live, we call it just another Friday.

  • The number of people in the United States who honestly believe the fakest of fake news, especially about the recent presidential election, depresses me. Why do so many people believe disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies that claim Donald Trump actually got more votes than Joe Biden? (He didn’t of course; Biden won by more than 7 million popular votes and 74 electoral votes.) The claims of fraud are swallowed with ease by Trump’s followers, even though there is zero evidence of that having happened.

    According to some accounts, 70%-80% of Republicans believe that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump. Trump’s most avid supporters have been trained over the past four years to distrust traditional media and believe virtually anything and everything Mr. Trump says. It’s almost like being in a cult, and equally dangerous. This opinion piece in the LA Times opines on just why Trump’s followers appear to be so gullible; it’s more complicated than you might think.

    It doesn’t help that the president of the country is doing most of the fake news spreading. Last Saturday Mr. Trump held an alleged rally in Georgia for that state’s two senatorial candidates in the January run-off election. It was less a rally for them than it was a chance for Mr. Trump to repeat all of his favorite disinformation points about the election he just lost. He said things like, “We’re winning this election” (no he’s not), “If I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser” (he did and he’s obviously not), “We won Georgia” (no he didn’t), “When the numbers come out of ceilings and come out of leather bags you start to say what’s going on?” (implying massive voter fraud), and much, much more. I don’t know whether he’s really that delusional, trying to steal the election, or just trying to work the crowd, but he appears to be pitching a different reality to his followers than the rest of us are living in. AP has a good fact check from that rally.

    As to why so many Republican politicians continue to back the president in his seeming Quixotic quest to overturn the legitimate election results, it’s all about playing to their conspiracy theory-believing base. I suppose some of these Republicans actually believe the fake news that Trump is spewing, but it appears that most are just going along for the ride to hopefully ensure their future political prospects. The degree of cynicism involved is staggering. Yahoo! News has the story.

    Hopefully most of this post-election disinformation will be behind us next week when the Electoral College votes, assuming something even more outrageous doesn’t happen. Although, as many have speculated, Mr. Trump and his followers, although defeated, are not likely to fade away. Expect even more fake news about the election as Trump and his die-hard minions attempt to delegitimize Biden’s upcoming presidency. Salon has a good analysis of the situation.
  • In other election-related fake news news, with the upcoming senatorial run-off election, Georgia has become a hotbed of election misinformation. “A parallel universe has been created. One where, without evidence, some Trump supporters believe the Republican Governor… is actually a shill for the Chinese government. Where voting equipment used in this state has something to do with the late former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. And where innocuous videos of Georgian election officials doing their job are supposedly evidence of election fraud.” Read all about it from CNN.
  • The other big nexus of fake news is the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, in particular the pending coronavirus vaccine. Researchers say that vaccine-related misinformation started small, in select Facebook groups, and quickly spread to the mainstream. This is dangerous to public health as a whole, as a recent Gallup survey found that 37% of Americans are not willing to get a COVID vaccine. Given that experts say that 75%-85% of the public needs to be vaccinated to bring the pandemic under control, the anti-vaccination misinformation could be deadly. NPR has the story.
  • Facebook this week removed a number of pages, some with tens of millions of followers, after researchers found them to be part of a coordinated network driving users to five “alternative” health sites in an attempt to increase ad revenue on those sites. Not surprisingly, those sites are known for repeatedly publishing false health claims. The Washington Post has this story.
  • Finally, CNET has a detailed story on how Facebook battled all sorts of misinformation on its site throughout 2020. We’re talking misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, and racial justice. It was a challenge like anything Facebook has faced before; you judge how well the company did. Read the story here.

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