In the last couple of weeks, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets have exposed millions of Americans to false stories asserting that: the Clinton campaign’s pollster, Joel Benenson, wrote a secret memo detailing plans to “salvage” Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by launching a radiological attack to halt voting (merrily shared on Twitter by Roger Stone, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign); the Clinton campaign senior strategist John Podesta practiced an occult ritual involving various bodily fluids; Mrs. Clinton is paying public pollsters to skew results (shared on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr.); there is a trail of supposedly suspicious deaths of myriad Clinton foes (which The Times’s Frank Bruni heard repeated in a hotel lobby in Ohio).And speaking of the "Clinton body count" and merry sharing by Roger Stone, this just popped up on my Twitter feed:
Rutenberg says, "The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism." His argument is that "ambitious, well-reported" journalism about other subjects will crowd out fake news about fake subjects.
That would help -- but I've always believed that conspiracies thrive in part because they're not confronted head-on. Yes, conspiracy stories are debunked at Snopes, and the mainstream media takes them on occasionally -- but the MSM debunking isn't consistent, and, of course, the conspiracy-mongers have a big head start: Many Clinton-era conspiracies, including the "body count," are decades old; others are continually recycled, like a rumor cited by a West Virginia interviewee in a Boston Globe story over the weekend:
[Dean] Pack passed on another rumor, considered shocking if false: that the government has ordered 30,000 guillotines that Clinton, if elected, plans to use “to kill us -- Christians and people who believe in the Second Amendment.”This is probably part of the "FEMA railcars with shackles and guillotines" story, which worried Obama-haters throughout the Obama years and some Bush-haters in the Bush years.
“All you got to do is pull it up on the Internet,” Pack said.
The mainstream press should address these crazy stories as an extension of the fact-checking that's become a big part of reporting in recent years. Go to town on this stuff -- disprove it, name and shame the people who spread it, make it seem fun and cool to recognize that it's ridiculous. What's happened in recent years is that conspiracy believers have persuaded a lot of people that they're the ones in the know -- they're the sophisticates, and people who don't think 9/11 was a series of controlled demolitions, or that an Alaska government research facility controls the weather, are the real rubes. More effort needs to be made to undermine these notions.
Obviously, there's only so much that can be done about all this. Many people will still believe. But while sunlight may not be the best disinfectant, this stuff obviously thrives in the shadows. Exposing it can help.