Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fake News can be Hard to Stamp Out

The Washington Post recently published an insightful story regarding fake news plaguing businesses on Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC. This demonstrates how baseless news, taken at face value, is hard to eradicate.

The article centers on Comet Ping Pong, the victim of a viral fake news outbreak, represented by the hashtag #pizzagate.

The misunderstanding came to a head when a reader from North Carolina, disturbed by erroneous reports connecting the restaurant with child sexual abuse, showed up at the business with an assault rifle to do his part as a concerned citizen.

Don't ever say that fake news is just for fun and no one gets hurt.

Fortunately, no one was injured, and the shooter gave himself up, but damage had been done to Comet Ping Pong and neighboring businesses inundated with calls threatening and accusing them of things they had never done. And of course, the shooter now has a police record.

Could this have been avoided?

With so many readers and re-tweeters involved, it's hard to imagine how this could have been stopped except during the very early stages. Once something quickly becomes viral, it develops a life of its own. Certainly, the businesses affected couldn't stop it. When they took measures to address the situation, it made them look more guilty to their accusers.

Should fake news perpetrators be held responsible?  And if so, how? This could be a good challenge for classes to discuss. Start with this tweet from #pizzagate:
"Nutcase walks Into Comet Pizza with gun: Anyone who even mentioned is responsible!"
It's a current day problem and not one that is going to go away any time soon--unless enough people practice investigative searching. And when you do, you could be responsible to report what you find as credible or not.

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