Since Donald Trump’s “election” the topic of fake news has been discussed quite a lot. Since then, individuals like Trump have used the term as a “weapon” to discredit factual news they don’t want others to believe, some have distorted the actual meaning of the term for their own personal agenda, while others have made legitimate attempts to bring attention to a very serious problem corrupting our media.
Unfortunately, the problem of fake news isn’t so much in unethical sites pushing it (though they’re most definitely a problem), but the people who blindly believe and share things that confirm their own biases. It’s one thing to call out fake news or explain how effective it’s been. That’s actually not all that difficult to do. In my opinion, the real issue we’re dealing with is the desire by people to ignore facts they don’t want to believe, while believing in fictional nonsense they want to believe.
This is certainly an issue plaguing both the left and the right (I’ve called it out on the left a few times), but it’s a much bigger problem among conservatives. While there are “liberal” blogs pushing large amounts of fake or contextually inaccurate “news,” you don’t see leading Democrats citing these shady and unethical sources. However, among many Republican politicians, especially Trump, right-wing conspiracy sites like Breitbart, InfoWars, Drudge, and World News Daily are seen as “legitimate news sources.”
We currently have a man in charge of this country whose top advisor is Steve Bannon (former head of Breitbart), and who views Alex Jones, someone who insisted Sandy Hook could’ve been a hoax and said he’s had people tell him that Barack Obama is a literal demon who smells like sulfur, as a “credible news source.”
When it comes to believing pure fiction, almost nobody tops Trump supporters. In all my years following politics, I’ve never seen a group of people who live in a world as warped, distorted, and fact-free as these folks.
Well, 28-year-old James McDaniel proved how gullible Trump supporters are after he purposely created a fake news website as kind of a joke, only to see its popularity spike to the tune of a million page views in about two weeks.
As reported by Politifact:
UndergroundNewsReport.com was launched Feb. 21. In less than two weeks, more than 1 million people had viewed stories on the site and spread them across social media platforms.
“I was surprised by how gullible the people in the Trump groups were, but as I continued to write ridiculous things they just kept getting shared and I kept drawing more viewers,” McDaniel told PolitiFact. “I saw how many fake ridiculous stories were making rounds in these groups and just wanted to see how ridiculous they could get.”
McDaniel even tried to warn viewers by putting a disclaimer on the bottom of his web pages saying his posts “are fiction, and presumably fake news.” While a handful of people took the time to email him to ask if stories were real or send hate mail, most of the comments on his links blindly accepted what he wrote as the truth.
Here are a few of the headlines McDaniel published on his fake site:
Bombshell: WikiLeaks leaks ‘lost’ Clinton email
Obama tweet: Trump must be removed, by any means necessary
Man pardoned by Obama 3 months ago arrested for murder
Whoopi Goldberg: Navy SEAL Widow was ‘Looking for Attention’
There was also another one about Obama running a human trafficking ring out of the White House.
“I think that almost every story I did, or at least the successful ones, relayed off of things that Trump supporters already believed. Obama is a Muslim terrorist. Hillary (Clinton) is a demonic child trafficker,” McDaniel said. “These are things much more widely believed among Trump supporters than I had previously thought.”
Ignoring the ethical implications behind purposely pushing fake news to see how gullible people are, the fact that McDaniel essentially proved that many Trump supporters will blindly believe any sort of outrageous nonsense just as long as it caters to something they want to be real is exactly how Donald Trump was “elected” despite being possibly the most dishonest person to ever run for office.
In fact, I recently wrote about this very issue well before I saw McDaniel’s story.
Odds are, if the headline sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If you can’t take a few moments to read through an article and/or fact-check the source, then don’t believe what the headline says until you do. While I’m not against clickbait (I view it as a form of marketing/advertising), just like with advertising, there are ethical and unethical forms of it. There are advertisements that lure you into buying a great product and others that flat-out lie to you just to get your business. Whether you’re reading something news-related, or buying a new appliance, always make sure you’re doing your research to avoid being duped by unethical people selling you something that turns out to be bullcrap.
What McDaniel’s short experiment did was provide a fantastic example of how ignorant many Trump supporters are when it comes to believing outrageously blatant lies just as long as the fake stories he wrote pandered to things they wanted to believe. It certainly wasn’t some sort of scientific study, but combined with what we saw during the election, it’s clear we have a lot of work to do to make sure verified facts carry more weight in this country than certified trash.
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