“Fake News” and the Art of the Crybaby

Exploring the extent of 'fake news' on social media • Earth.com

I’ve been thinking about when I first heard the term “fake news,” and it wasn’t until sometime in 2016, when the Presidential election contest was in full bloom. I think back to that campaign and Donald Trump, who used that phrase frequently to identify those and their organizations that asked tough questions of him. So many times Trump would get a question or be asked to comment on things like Russia meddling, hush money to porn stars, and p***y grabbing. He would retreat to my personal visual of him in the fetal position shouting “you are a very bad person” and calling them “fake news.” The questions were always real and about facts in the public domain. How about your tax returns, Mr. President? He would argue “no one cares but you,” referring to the press, and label the questions “unfair” and then call it fake news. It was quite effective. Russia noticed. His supporters noticed. So did we and the rest of America. We would learn later, after the FBI, Mueller, and countless other investigations, the peddling of fake news, and then misinformation campaigns or outright lies, would cut deep into the souls of America.

Didn’t you think that arguing fake news was just a defense mechanism used by Trump to deflect from bad press? I did. I figured that he just liked the tool of misdirection to thwart those who opposed him. I had no idea that pushing fake news was not only a pervasive political strategy, but an outright war on our long-standing democratic institutions. It was war on the truth. On facts. He weaponized fake news and then a foreign power took it to a new level through our most frequented media outlets, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.

How social media misinformation wins — even if you don't believe it
Internet Research Agency troll

There are hundreds of articles out there on the various bad actors who developed memes, and trolls to spread miss information to the American voter. For example, Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian cyber-warfare group, became a prolific actor in a world of bad actors. We would find out the chilling details of the deep and painful reach of the IRA through Robert Mueller’s report issued in 2019 documenting the Russian conspiracy to help elect Donald Trump. According to Wired, Facebook and Twitter members were targeted through “IRA trolls aimed to pit Americans against each other with divisive memes.” Millennials received special attention and were targeted through similar tactic on Instagram. The idea was to spread division and create a culture of disenfranchisement. The more people hated Clinton, the better the chance Democratic and Independent voters might stay home. The IRA attracted over 3 million followers to their pages and issued hateful, divisive content some 70 million times. Targeting, because of the way social media collected your data, was laser focused. If you were black, advocated for the 2nd Amendment, or leaned toward the far right or left, your feeds would receive memes and content poured in to get you stirred up to hate. Content warfare was designed to stoke distrust in democratic institutions and suppress turnout for candidate Hillary Clinton. It worked. America bought it. Hundreds of thousands of voters threw their hands up and didn’t vote. Some 75,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania tipped the electoral balance and gave America Trump.

What I want you to think about is how social media giants like Facebook and Twitter got played, and worse yet, participated in this destruction of truth and fact. And, please, my point here is not to cast dispersion on our 1st Amendment rights. We have the right to free speech. But, do you think it makes sense that somehow the New York Times, Washington Post, or Miami Herald should be held to one ethical standard, while Facebook, Twitter, and others alike, are not held to any standard. Should our free social media platforms allow anything to be said or asserted, especially from sources or people with enormous responsibility? Like a Presidential candidate. Or a foreign power. Herein lies the dilemma. Our papers and broadcast companies regulate to ensure facts, truth, and trustworthy content, even with opinion editorials. But social media, not at all. Why is this? We’ve heard deflection around content not being owned by the platforms, so CEO’s have said its not “our responsibility” to fact check or regulate. In the quest for having the most subscribers, social media leadership has summarily turned a cold cheek to quality and trust, and to what’s right and wrong in our modern technology tools.

What Is Social Media's Role in Stopping Fake News?

This roller coaster ride through “what is true and what is false” hasn’t stopped since 2016. Trust in our norms and love for one another has disintegrated right before our eyes. President Trump operationalized lying with his voice at the mic and through Twitter. This took off as a candidate and continued throughout his Presidency. As bad as that may seem, what is worse is the lack of accountability to the American people. Social media has also continued to be a breading ground for bad actors, using incendiary posts & memes designed to get you to be a hater, one way or the other. It has worked.

Just this year alone, we’ve had a number of falsehoods promoted by Trump using Twitter as his playground. Remember that Trump claimed “mail-in” voting was fraudulent. Untrue. Remember Trump called an elderly protester who got bullied by police an “ANTIFA” agent. Untrue. These lies reached millions of people.

Do social media companies deserve some of the blame? You bet they do. It’s hard to prevent bad actors, like Trump, from doing harmful things with his voice. It’s called free will. But, free will doesn’t mean our social media platforms should allow such harmful rhetoric and lies to be the truths we accept. It’s sort of like shouting “fire” in a movie theater when there is no fire. Our 1st amendment rights don’t give us permission to incite a panic. It’s illegal. That’s right, illegal. However, I can go to my Facebook or Twitter feed right now, and write or image just about anything I want and press “send.” Social media users, real and fake, can create havoc anytime. And they do. According to Forbes, “when platforms like Facebook are not held responsible for the accuracy of the content they present, there is no incentive for them not to show you the most outrageous or fake.” As populism and fringe movements have risen in America, social media platforms have allowed full license to the crazy and unhinged. Deft haters promote conspiracies and inappropriately influence voters. Remember the press coverage around conspiracies that Covid-19 was a hoax created by Democrats to hurt Trump in the 2020 election? That happened just three months ago and was all over social media and Fox News. Ridiculous. Just an absolute assault on truth, fairness, and of course, science. But those stories ran as did their memes through our social networks.

Trump made 56 false claims last week - CNNPolitics

So, what’s the answer? Social media company executives have been mostly silent or deflective. While being sensitive to the fact that Russian bots got the better of them in the 2016 election process, they’ve been resistant to forming real accountable plans to regulate themselves. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has been to Congress, deflected, and argued it isn’t his responsibility, while apologizing for Russia’s “purchased interference” in the 2016 election. Some 3,500 Facebook ads were bought by Russia’s IRA. We also know that further polorization in our communities has helped unravel our trust in real democratic institutions. Everyone wants free speech. I do. But at what cost? Shouldn’t the social cost relative to social media platforms have some mitigation applied to defend the worst effects? Consider the answer should be yes. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, recently gave the green light for Twitter to “fact check” Trump, with false statements being identified in the feed and directed to the reliable information sources. Trump threatened to sue social media companies, of course, in retaliation. Surprising I know. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, indicated that Facebook shouldn’t be “an arbiter of truth,” creating some new friction between he and Dorsey. According to Trump, “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices.” I submit that is entirely unfair and untrue. Trump just wants it his way because he has never been held to account. It may also be that Republicans have a hard time with the truth because they need to defend Trump, so they slip into passive resistance, which further enables the bad behavior. Trump says, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.” He knows full well he cant shut down social media or or any other news source. This isn’t Russia, Donald. Of course, this is a form of crybaby tactic he employs when he cant get his way.

Zen Mirror: Why it Might be time to Bring Back The Fairness Doctrine

As a final set of thoughts, consider the possibility of bringing back some form of a modern Fairness Doctrine. This doctrine was an FCC policy implemented in the late 1940’s to provide quality control and ethical fairness to controversial topics of the day. It was repealed during the Reagan years and argued by Republican proponents to be obstructive to the 1st Amendment. Most of those arguments were levied as cable/satellite news was developing creative content that pushed new limits.

In 1987, Reagan and the FCC formally repealed the fairness doctrine but maintained both the editorial and personal-attack provisions, which remained in effect until 2000, and were not renewed during the Bush or Obama Administrations. Fast-forward, and the consequences of monopolistic social media dictates that we must consider some form of regulation. Whether we make use of a fairness doctrine or some other quality check, the impact of doing nothing, or kicking the can down the road, erodes our democracy. Just consider how America’s lack of trust in our institutions unraveled over just three and half years. We need our social media companies for all of the benefits we derive from them, but those benefits come at a considerable cost. Is that cost affordable any longer? Let’s agree, the answer is No.

Engaging in political debate with my Republican friends has become unsettling

Having a debate with your friends about political issues of the day used to be playful and engaging, with no one getting their feelings hurt. Those days are gone. The frustrations of political discourse have been building up in our daily lives since the early 2000’s and hit a serious crescendo when Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. Something happened in our country that caused most of us to pick sides with unrelenting harshness. Perhaps some part of it related to “we just elected our first black President”? It is interesting to me that parts of “white America” got pretty aggressive right about then. Remember birtherism? Who started that anyway? Some other factors to consider:

  • The Bush war machine
  • Great Recession
  • Clinton fatigue
  • Obama’s ACA
  • McConnell obstruction
  • Obama’s lost Supreme Court justice
  • Executive orders
  • DACA
  • Benghazi
  • Emails
  • Trump & Russia
  • Wealth gap
  • Hunter Biden
  • Voter suppression
  • Impeachment
  • Power

Perhaps both parties have been moving toward their fringes? Progressive vs Tea party. Democrats have been looking for modern day New Deal ideas. Republicans have doubled down on 2nd Amendment rights, immigration concerns, and trickle down economics. Whatever your pleasure, the divides have caused our discourse to become uncomfortable at best and downright abusive at worst.

Trump the Narcissist vs. Sleepy Joe

I like to ask my Trump friends, how do you justify your vote with all of his moral flaws, misinformation, conspiracy theories, hate and division? Answer I usually get, “he lowered my taxes and the economy is great.” I generally follow with what in the economy has been great for you? Responses are “stock market is flying and oh yeah he eliminated all those regulations.” I ask, has all that been good for you? Response: “Uh, you know Democrats are socialists so I could never vote for them.” We never really get to the bottom of it. And when I press about Trump’s moral misgivings, my friends always come back to the Dems are the swamp. They want to give everything away and raise taxes. I try to engage about McConnell and the stolen Supreme Court pick and the legislation that is piling up on his desk. I generally get back, “so what, we are confirming conservative judges and preventing liberals from changing gun laws.” It’s exhausting.

Let’s be fair, I am difficult too. I am wrapped up in how immoral Trump is and how irresponsible McConnell and the Senate GOP have been. I don’t have patience for apologists that justify bad behavior with “my wallet is full” and “ I don’t want the government confiscating my arsenal.” I must admit, the economy has been good. The stock market has done well, and our tax rates are lower. I’ve benefited from all of that. But at what costs? I’d give back my tax break to pay others a little more. I am sensitive to the lack of progress on the minimum wage, ill conceived tariffs impacting farmers and manufacturing, and threatening to back out of commitments to world organizations like NATO or the WHO. Racism is alive and well. That bothers me. I believe in the climate threat, and I’m also worried about 21st century jobs, infrastructure, cost of education, and the wealth gap. Can we ever talk about this stuff without screaming and yelling? Isn’t there room for all of us in the solutions?

The reality is political conversation has become a winner take all affair. There is no compromise. No coming together. No one can agree to give an inch. The blame for that sits with our elected officials. That discourse starts with them. If a politician isn’t willing to call “bull#$*t” on foreign government interference, accept facts, be empathetic, or practice healing with a nation, then its going to be difficult to find common ground. I would submit that we don’t have to be okay with this. The resolution has always been in our hands. VOTE for change. Usher in a new era of political discourse. Either the parties accept that compromise is what people want, or consider extinction. Think back to Lincoln in the mid-1850’s. The Whigs became extinct. The Republican Party was born, and a “white” President ended slavery. Transformation is possible. It takes compromise. I am willing. Are you?

Will Bernie voters decide the 2020 Election?

I’m still reeling from the impact and disappointment of the 2016 Presidential election. Yes, I voted for Hillary, and while I was not trilled with the baggage she brought to the campaign, I was entirely pumped about the idea of “Madam President.” I really believed we were ready for a woman to break the glass ceiling and take the reign of leadership in our country. Sadly, things did not turn out as expected.

It is well debated among pundits the reasons for the Trump victory. If you got your fill of news and commentary from Fox, the Trump victory was about the economy, nationalism, outsiders, and a promise to “Make America Great Again.” If you tuned into MSNBC or CNN, the operative conclusion was Hillary snatched defeat from the hands of victory, and the Bernie voter was center stage. Let’s examine…

The unraveling started with the DNC hack by Russia, and the subsequent email dump that began in late July 2016 by WikiLeaks. According to the New York Times, “several embarrassing messages” were made public about then DNC Chair and Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Shultz (FL-Dem), and others, indicating their preference for Clinton over Sanders. Some of the emails suggested the DNC and Team Clinton had planned to disparage Bernie’s campaign to ensure a Clinton nomination. Bernie was making it easy to fight back. He and his supporters railed against Clinton, the Democrats in general, and argued that his progressive agenda was the future of the party. His campaign, and the froth that went with it, was remarkably similar to Trump’s. He and his supporters hated the “establishment” and thought money, corruption, and influence represented Clinton and mainstream Democratic politics. It is noteworthy that while Bernie complained consistently about the establishment, he changed party designation from Independent to Democrat just to run for President. Doesn’t that sort of mean you need the establishment? Think about that.

While investigations by the FBI and Mueller clearly proved that Clinton was targeted by Russia, in favor of Trump, the big mystery has continued to be about how the attack changed the way voters in this country viewed Clinton and ultimately voted, or didn’t.

Clinton ended up winning the nomination, handily, which always irritated voters like me. She would likely have won without the DNC and Team Clinton mischief with Bernie. It was unnecessary and a brutal distraction. The August-November months played out with continued interruptions for email dumps and investigation starts and stops. Watching the polls, Clinton never led the National polls by less than 5% at any time. She was going to win. It was in the bag. According to a Forbes article published just after the Trump victory in 2016, “Hillary was always going to be the head of the Democratic ticket in 2016. This was decided by party leaders in 2008.” That viewpoint didn’t sit well with Bernie, and really didn’t sit well with his supporters. Bernie bro’s didn’t like Clinton, even though Trump seemed worse in a lot of respects. What Trump had going for him was the call to “drain the swamp.” Bernie was in favor of that too. Of course, we know now that Trump didn’t drain the swamp. In fact, he made the swamp bigger and more threatening. But, back to Bernie. He made appearances, went to the Convention, called for unity, and campaigned for Hillary. But, everyone knew there was no truth in it. Especially among those who really campaigned hard for him. The email reveals were just too much. They felt betrayed, taken advantage of and hurt. They were convinced that the Democratic Party machine kept their guy from being the one to take on Trump.

So, what resulted is burned into American history. Don’t mind the pun. The election that couldn’t be lost, was lost. Election night was supposed to be an all out assault, with high voter turn-out to ensure America didn’t end up with the embarrassment it got. That didn’t happen. Bernie voters became emblematic of the progressive protest and essentially “sat it out.” If you add up the maybe 75,000 or so votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that Trump won by, you can chalk up the difference and the election to Bernie voters who protested through their “no” vote. So, America got Trump.

Fast-forward nearly four years later and its June 2020. Here we are again. Trump is looking to get re-elected and the Democratic Party has chosen former VP Joe Biden to be the party nominee. Nothing nefarious happened this go around. The headlining story has been US Representative Jim Clyburn (Dem-SC) perhaps saving Biden’s campaign through an inspiring push in the South Carolina primary, helping Joe to his first primary win, ever.

With a few additional key primary wins that happened during the Super Tuesday vote, it became clear that the Democrats wanted Joe to be their 2020 standard bearer. Candidate after candidate dropped out and threw in for Biden. Bernie, of course, was last, having thought weeks earlier he was on his way to the nomination. Some would argue that he didn’t believe the Democrats would rally around Biden. He had good reason. Biden really hadn’t found his spark and prior to South Carolina, he was in fourth place. The nation was talking about Bernie’s delegate lead. There was no thought that Biden would survive a long primary let alone become the nominee. As the tide turned after South Carolina, Bernie’s lead evaporated, and soon it became apparent that Biden would win the nomination. Once again, Bernie, and his supporters, would not prevail. But not because of the establishment being unfair. Voters quickly made the calculation that Biden was the most electable, and Bernie represented a pull too far to the left. Bernie’s supporters have long wondered why he couldn’t get over the hurdle? Why hadn’t the party leaned in to the progressive left? After all, Bernie self proclaimed his movement to be extraordinary. Consider the Democratic party may not quite be ready for revolution.

So, has anything really changed from 2016? Yes. Bernie has changed. He has very much opted for unity as the stakes are critical now. Once again, we are facing an election that MUST not be lost. Bernie knows this. Other progressives like Elizabeth Warren know this too. So does Andrew Yang. Even party moderates like Pete Buttigieg know this. Every one of the twenty plus candidates that ran for the nomination knows this.

Do the Bernie supporters know this? I have met a lot of Bernie supporters in person, through Twitter, FB, and other channels. They worry me. I must say I am not that worried about those who support Trump. They are the same. A minority base that was there in 2016. They dont represent the majority of America and that base doesn’t grow. The Bernie supporter, however, worries me. They are still fussing over why Bernie wasn’t the nominee. They are being aggressive about Biden needing to pick him for VP, or else. I’ve had Bernie voters tell me they will once again not vote in this election. I argue feverishly that a no vote is a vote for Trump. Remember 2016? They get it but still feel like the “establishment” is working against them. I argue some more. Biden has agreed to incorporate some of the most progressive ideas in our country’s history, and Bernie had an important hand in driving these ideas. Biden isn’t a perfect choice. But he’s a better choice. Personally, I pulled for and supported other candidates that I wanted to see represent the party in the general election. I really believed the next generation should take over, but the country wasn’t ready yet. So, I will vote for Biden. That’s the responsible action to take as a Democrat and someone who is disgusted with Trump. I do think the Bernie voters get it, but they continue to protest the Democratic Party not being progressive enough. Maybe that’s why many of the Bernie voters are really Independents? Whatever the reasons for discontent, I argue its time to be responsible and vote, or forever be a big part of why we got Trump twice.

If we all show up in November, Biden will win in a landslide victory for the country. If we don’t, well, we’ve seen the movie. My message to Bernie supporters…please don’t “cut off your nose to spite your face.” Please.

Trump: A modern day “Manchurian” President?

The similarities are eerie. Just thinking about it causes discomfort. Let me explain. Take a little trip back in time to remember Richard Condon’s 1959 best-selling thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, which inspired two films of similar title, one in 1962, and the most recent, in 2004. The 2004 cinematic, starred Liev Schreiber as Sergeant Raymond Shaw, Denzel Washington as Major Bennett Marco, and Meryl Streep as Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, Raymond’s mother.

While the 1959 novel and the most recent 2004 film vary in terms of the point in time, there are common underlying themes, like political manipulation, abuse of power, and interference in the US democracy. These themes strike a nerve in how close each manifestation resembles the political atmosphere surrounding today’s US President, Donald Trump.

The late historic film critic, Roger Ebert, described of the 2004 film…”Corporations are a sinister force.” As the movie goes, Raymond Shaw, a former military operative, and current US Congressman, is tapped to be nominated as a Vice-presidential candidate amid a suspicious political environment. His mother, Senator Eleanor Prentiss, a sinister, cunning, manipulative Senator, helps steer the young Congressman to this imminent nomination through the power of her office, manipulation and deceit. For context, America is mired in corporate overreach, fear mongering, and the perfect storm is brewing for something terrible to happen politically. Shaw, an oddity of sorts, is full of inconsistencies in his background, yet uniquely polished and strong. Constituents are drawn to him. Funny that Schreiber plays this character. In a telling scene, Shaw is told by a corrupt Senator, “you are about to become the first privately-owned and operated Vice-President of the United States.” As the story unfolds, this thriller is essentially a scary tale about right-wing corporate and political players trying to win the presidency, destroy those in the way, in order to gain control of the highest office through a compromised candidate.

The plan is set in motion through Senator Prentiss Shaw, who transacts with an evil corporate giant, Manchurian Global, to brainwash her son, Raymond, in a corrupt effort to push him toward a controlled vice-presidency. This plan is conceived many years before present-day, while Raymond and his military squad are fighting in the Persian Gulf. Their unit is mysteriously overtaken at the direction of Manchurian Global, which resulted in control chips being placed in the bodies of Raymond and the story’s hero, Major Ben Marco. Curiously, in the 1959 novel version, the control and manipulation occurs through a foreign power, China, not a corporation.

The hero, Ben Marco, takes you through an unearthing of the deception, through an investigation of events dating all the way back to his and Ray’s time in the Gulf. Ben discovers his implant, and that of Shaw’s too, through terrifying dreams that help him piece it all together. He confronts Shaw about what he learned researching Manchurian Global, and how Shaw’s nomination is connected to the scheme. Senator Prentiss Shaw, activates her son to set in motion kill orders to help cover tracks and further the scheme. Major Marco is able to subvert the plot by killing Shaw and his mother in the movie’s culmination, ultimately saving the Presidency. The Manchurian leaders watch their unholy truth play out in real-time on television, spoiling their manipulation campaign.

Now, it is clear both the novel and movie are fictional tales, and each focus on some elements that remind you of why we like thrillers. However, it is not fantasy to see that a variety of events in our current political theatre might suggest the possible compromise of a Presidential political figure.

In plain sight, you might observe a sympathetic response by enablers of our US President, to foreign interference in his election win, investigation cover-ups, compromised Administration appointees, and unexplained infatuation with our most significant foreign enemy. These facts or coincidences seem alarming at best and a clear American crisis at worst.

In today’s terms, the suggestion of a “controlled” President produces so many questions that need answers. Why did Russia want Trump to be President so badly? What was in it for them? Why Trump? Why has our President continued to ask for help again as the 2020 election looms? Is the beneficiary Russia? Think about it. Is President Trump a Raymond Shaw? Is Russia a Global Manchurian? Putin a Senator Prentiss Shaw?

Is it happenstance or coincidence that Trump ran for President in 2016? Why him, why Russia, why NOW?

Consider the reasons and circumstances that led to such a conspiratorial candidate rising to power in America. Let us not forget that our country’s framers warned us. They feared the rise of this kind of President and sought to curtail the threat of foreign influence in their debate for the ratification of the Constitution. Read The Federalist Papers, by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.

Finally, who will be our Major Ben Marco? Can anyone solve this mystery? It does seem we need a hero, and fast…