When the truth no longer matters
By Rod Haxton, editor
If you were (or still are) a fan of the X Files, you were reminded that “the truth is out there.”
That may be. The bigger question: Who’s cares?
In the months leading up to the general election, Facebook proved to be a ripe breeding ground for fake news stories. We’re not talking about news that has a “liberal” or a “conservative” lean, but news that is 100 percent without fact.
Contrary to what you may have read, the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump.
Bill Clinton didn’t rape a 13-year-old.
And Hillary Clinton didn’t sell weapons to ISIS.
We’re sure that hearing that won’t matter to millions of people who choose to believe differently. Believing that thousands of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11 is apparently how some people cope with their day to day existence.
It used to be a Nigerian (or African country of your choice) government official who is trying to smuggle millions of dollars out of the country and needs your help. All you have to do is provide him with a few thousand dollars, or your bank account number, and you will be richly rewarded.
Who could pass up such easy money? Besides, what could be more legitimate than an unknown Nigerian official who took the time to get your personal mailing address (e-mail today) and contact you for assistance?
Similar scams have continued to evolve over the years because, as we all know, there’s one born every minute.
These ripoffs are the most obvious. But, what about the scams that cost you nothing?
It’s been well publicized since the election that individuals were sitting at their computers and generating false stories because it was profitable. It’s not that some of these individuals were trying to influence the election, or even cared about the outcome, but they found a way to make a buck without having to convince anyone they were a Nigerian prince who was overthrown by a coup.
Jestin Coler, who operates a fake news website, said he made between $10,000 and $30,000 a month from the Facebook and Google advertising that was linked with stories as they were viewed by millions of readers.
A story about Hillary Clinton killing a non-existent FBI agent for leaking her e-mails had 1.6 million views in the first 10 days. Each individual who views that story is contributing to the government official from Nigeria.
Coler, who calls his company Disinfomedia, feels no moral obligation to tell the truth when people are paying for lies. He’s simply giving the people what they want.
Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say some of the people.
As the stories mentioned earlier would indicate, there’s a certain audience that seems to feed on disinformation. It’s not that Coler and similar news fabricators haven’t tried to expand their market, but like any good businessman, he’s learned that you don’t keep dropping your line where the fish ain’t biting.
“We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked,” he admits. “You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.”
That’s Coler essentially saying that one audience does their homework; another doesn’t.
As one well-known media outlet likes to declare: you decide.
Coler’s media outlet offered an eye-opening revelation to those who want their eyes opened. And his observation doesn’t just apply to Disinfomedia and similar websites who are pedaling a certain agenda.
Right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, for example, make a living from fabricating stories out of whole cloth, challenging President Obama’s birth certificate, declaring that water fluoridation is mass mind control and that childhood immunizations cause autism.
Those are themes that played well in Republican politics and on the campaign trail.
Or how about the claim that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination?
Maybe this recent tweet rings a bell: “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
Of course, that came from the small fingers of president-elect Donald Trump. He got that information straight from Jones who, two weeks earlier, revealed that “three million votes in the presidential election were cast by illegal aliens.”
There is no evidence to support that allegation. Not that it matters to Jones who makes a living from an audience who can’t decipher the truth without his help.
What’s more troubling is that while Trump is berating the New York Times and chastising the major media outlets in Trump Tower, he refers to Jones as having an “amazing reputation.” This is the same “news source” which has declared the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax.
His reputation is so impeccable that Trump re-tweets falsehoods that he picks up from Jones and distributes them as fact.
Trump, however, is no different than the millions of Disinfomedia suckers who search out whatever supports their beliefs without regard to the facts. That doesn’t bode well for this nation’s efforts to deal with climate change, immigration policy, public education or the future of vital programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
How can you expect to make sound decisions if you don’t know what the truth is, or simply don’t care? Or because of intellectual laziness rely on Alex Jones and the Drudge Report as fact-checking sources?
The truth should matter.
You might want to think about that before you hit the reply key with your bank account number and mother’s maiden name.
Rod Haxton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
"You've shed light on one of the greatest threats to our democracy. Constant onslaught against responsible journalism while disinformation flourishes. "
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