What did I find literally within 30 seconds of researching whether or not this story was true? That it wasn’t. In fact – at best – the information many of these websites were using to write their ridiculously sensationalized clickbait headlines was extremely questionable and not at all credible enough to actually ethically claim that these particular individuals were members of a white supremacist hate group.
But that didn’t stop these people from seizing on this bogus story, running with it without any regard concerning the facts or what reporting this misinformation might do to these people.
Here are a few of the headlines I came across:
This one actually surprised me a bit. PoliticusUSA is a site I respect and recommend to people if they ask me my opinion (though I do poke fun at some of their ridiculously over-the-top headlines from time to time), so it was disappointing to see their story show up as one of the first links I came across.
Americans Against the Tea Party: BREAKING: Activist Group Anonymous Has Begun Releasing Names of KKK Members, Including 4 U.S. Senators!
(Sidenote on the AATTP story: At the bottom of the article the site actually added a disclaimer admitting that Anonymous had nothing to do with this supposed lead, yet instead of actually pulling the article completely or writing a retraction, they kept the headline exactly how it originally was written. Nothing like putting a disclaimer at the bottom of an article admitting that the article is, in fact, garbage… while continuing to keep that article published on your website.)
Occupy Democrats ran with the story (a site that’s becoming synonymous with pushing misinformation for the sake revenue-generating “clickbait”) as well, along with posting several memes on their Facebook page. They have since updated the article, omitting the names of the politicians, while adding a disclaimer that their original story was based on information that was neither credible or verified. They also pulled the memes from their page. While I commend them for at least pulling the false information from their site, the damage had already been done. The memes they had posted to their Facebook account had already been shared tens of thousands of times, along with who knows how many article views which amounted to revenue earned from falsifying a story.
However, if you click on that link you’ll get an error message as they pulled the article completely.
International Business Times: Anonymous KKK List Names US Senators, Mayors: Alleged Ku Klux Klan Members Include John Cornyn of Texas
There were several others as well, but I think you get the point.
For the record, here’s the “official” response from the Twitter account for Anonymous Operation KKK group.
While I’m sure all of the sites that ran with this nonsense made a lot of money from these articles, all they really did was help racists by giving anyone whose name might appear on the actual list Anonymous releases instant deniability based on the misinformation that was heavily pushed on Monday.
Not only that, but according to a report from Gizmodo, apparently it’s not very difficult for anyone to sign someone else up as a member of the KKK. All it takes is for someone to have your name, email address and put forth a little effort and they can link at least some of your information to a chapter of the KKK.
So, unless Anonymous releases some rather direct and indisputable evidence specifically linking the names on their list to being active members of the infamous hate group, I would urge extreme caution on jumping to any sort of conclusions about any of this.
But this “story” showcases a huge problem with the so-called “independent” media about which I frequently warn people. While it’s easy to bash the mainstream media (and rightfully so), the “independent media” is often not a whole lot better. While networks like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are far from perfect, there are rules to which they must adhere. Even as biased as Fox News and MSNBC can be at times, they are forced to face repercussions if they cross certain lines.
However, the “independent media” isn’t usually held to even those bare minimum standards. For many of these websites, it’s about clickbait, website traffic and revenue. Often there’s very little, if any, vetting process for many of the stories they publish. Not only that, but a lot of these sites have clear agendas of their own, completely removed from journalistic integrity or objectivity.
The worst part of all of this is when left-leaning or liberal websites play loose with the facts like this, they’re behaving just like the right-wing media that they often claim is so devoid of reality. As someone who prides myself on believing that progressives stand above most conservatives because, if nothing else, we believe in facts – it absolutely pisses me off when I see nonsense like this. When these sites behave in this manner, all they do is give people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the rest of the conservative media legitimate examples to use against liberals in trying to make us look dishonest and untrustworthy.
We’re supposed to be better than this. At the end of the day, as a progressive activist, I want to be able to hold my head up high that, win or lose, we did so ethically, with integrity and based on facts – not misleading propaganda or outright lies. I would hope that these sites who ran with this bogus story, potentially slandering innocent people, would do the right thing and own up to their mistake. Based on my experience in this business, most won’t.
Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and let me know what you think (and if you’ve seen any of these sites issue an actual retraction and apology for their bogus stories or memes, I’d love to know about it).