In a post on Facebook® based on a story from CBS News called, “How Russia-linked groups used Facebook to meddle in 2016 elections,” I said:
The sad part of this story is just how many people preferred to believe these stories while putting down Snopes and other reliable fact-checkers. The big success for Russia was in convincing so many that it was the well-known and reliable fact-checkers who were biased and the Russian-written stories that were correct.
To this day, there are people still insisting that the well-known and reliable fact-checkers are biased. A whole industry of unreliable fact-checkers and conspiracy theorists sprung up in the USA, all empowered by the Russian fake stories, who took over and inundated the well-known and reliable fact-checkers.
Despite all the Russia stories published in media from every part of the political spectrum, you still have people believing that Snopes and other well-known and reliable fact-checkers are not telling the truth. People still prefer to believe the Russia-produced fake news to the actual truth, as pointed out by fact-checkers.
Since the election, fake news have become a major topic of conversation. But, fake news has been redefined for two reasons, and that redefinition is actually helping to destroy the idea of truth. In what way has fake news been redefined? Fake news used to mean news that had no truth in it. To give a silly example, one can go to tourist stops in many states and find falsified photographs of jackalopes, mermaids, etc. This was the definition of fake news that was used at the beginning of the Russian disinformation campaign. Fact-checkers promptly began to point out how fallacious some of the stories were.
As stories began to fall, those who read them had a choice. They could either continue to stand by their disproven stories or they could attack the fact-checkers. They attacked the fact-checkers, and they attacked them with a two-pronged approach. One prong of the approach was to continue to defend the stories. Thus, even the Governor of Texas had to bow to the fake news stories and order out the Texas National Guard to watch over the regular normal yearly summer military exercises by USA soldiers because of the fake news story that the exercises on that particular year would be used by then-President Obama to begin a socialist takeover of the USA. When nothing like that even remotely happened, there was no acknowledgement of the fake news, but rather a complete and utter silence that refused to admit that people had been taken in. Russia for the win! The second prong of the approach was to concentrate on what would normally have been considered to be minor issues. For instance, no human-written story is perfect. It is well documented that witness testimony is not fully reliable. But, those who began the counterattack began to concentrate on the small discrepancies to claim that this proved that the fact-checkers were biased or were themselves fake news.
Finally, fake news was redefined to mean that any story that was not perfect was fake news. This upended all definitions of fake news, but allowed those who proposed this definition to continue to refuse to acknowledge that they had been taken in by all too many Russian stories. The fact-checkers defined fake news as news that had been made up. That is, the stories were totally falsified. Thus, the story on Pizzagate (look it up if you do not remember) was completely false and was fake news. But, as the fact-checkers destroyed story after story, those who had been taken in by Russia redefined fake news to make any news that was imperfect to be fake news. This allowed those taken in by Russia to continue to hold the thin cloth of moral equivalency in front of them and continue to ignore the fact that they had been taken in by Russia.
Now there are several Congressional and FBI investigations going on. More and more the facts are coming out, and more and more the hand of Russia is seen in the flood of fake news that troubled the election of 2016. Please note, it is important that all of us realize that the fake news from Russia may not have changed the results of the election. But, what the fake news from Russia accomplished was to destroy the idea of truth. We still have people who were taken in by Russia who would rather argue that various cable channels are fake news than to admit that they were bamboozled by all too many stories originating from Russia. There are still people who go around claiming that the fact-checkers are biased because this is more palatable than admitting that they were taken in. There are still people who talk about drinking the Kool-Aid® because they cannot admit that they were fooled.
It is here that truth in the USA stands on the cliff edge. The idea of truth has been severely damaged by Russia. They were incredibly apt at convincing people that lies were truth. But, when people would rather keep believing the lies rather than admitting that they have been fooled, then truth itself hangs in the balance. Now, let me make something clear. This is not about political parties. There have been many honest and dedicated Democrats and Republicans. They have had honest and full disagreements. They follow different economic and political philosophies. Each believes in truth. Each is trying to put in place the system that they see as being best for this country. But, when fake news is received to the point that you would rather destroy your fellow citizen rather than admit you were taken in by Russia, then we are on the edge of a cliff. When you denounce all fact-checkers as being biased and fake, then we are on the edge of a cliff. When you would prefer to believe Russian news rather than the truth, then we stand on the edge of doom.
There is an easy solution. Begin to consult multiple fact-checkers on all news stories that appear too good to be true. Frankly, they are probably not true. Resist labeling all those with whom you disagree as purveyors of fake news. And, quit reading all those click-bait news stories. It is almost certain they are false.