Below is an archived edition of Ctrl Alt Right Delete, a weekly email newsletter. This edition was published on 12/11/2016. Members of Factual Democracy Project have access to past editions. Subscribe to Ctrl Alt Right Delete

We have to talk about #pizzagate

Comet PizzaThe #1 thing people requested that I talk about in their feedback is fake news. I’ll be honest, I was hesitant. I wrote about it recently on Medium but so much has been written about it already. I thought the topic was a bit played out. Then Edgar Welch took #pizzagate from horrible online conspiracy theory to horrific crime and fake news became impossible to ignore.

I’m not going to do an explainer of how #pizzagate spread. Several outlets have done this already. Buzzfeed’s overview in particular is quite good, and Amanda Marcotte’s piece on how we handle conspiracy theorists when we encounter them personally is also worth reading.
But here’s my take: It’s time to acknowledge that the creation and dissemination fake news–and misinformation generally–is a form of attack from the right wing and other hostile actors. We need to stop thinking about fake news in a passive way, as a nebulous thing that happens on the internet and shows up in our Facebook feeds. Spreading misinformation is a tactic as old as time, but in 2016, the attackers took the practice of disseminating fake news and misinformation to new heights. These are targeted attacks.
The Intercept’s Robert Mackey has the best description of fake news as a tactic I’ve seen so far (emphasis mine):
Given the results, it is hard to argue that I was anything but foolish to have tried to argue sense into these people, but it is important to realize that the phenomenon we are confronting here is not simply fake news, of the sort peddled for profit by apolitical entrepreneurs on Facebook. This is something different: a hoax created and released into the darker reaches of the internet for the express purpose of damaging the reputation of the Democratic candidate for the presidency.
As with many other false stories about Clinton that have widely spread online — like the baseless rumor promoted by Infowars and then Trump that millions of non-citizens illegally voted for her, and were encouraged to do so by President Obama — this should be described as what it is: disinformation, or the sort of “black propaganda” intelligence agencies have fabricated in decades past to smear politicians they see as enemies.
We can’t fight fake news and disinformation until we acknowledge it as an attack. This week, a new poll showed that most Americans who see fake news believe it — 75 percent of the time! The perpetrators of fake news aren’t just going after the left, but the American public overall. And they’re succeeding.
Worse still is we have an impending presidential administration full of high profile people amplifying and validating disinformation on their social media accounts. Michael Flynn and his son are associated with sharing the #pizzagate conspiracy but Trump, his sons, and his campaign staff have also happily shared fake news and conspiracy theories on Twitter and in the media from the birth of his campaign. Fake news might not be new, but it’s never had such prominent validators before.

So how do we fight back? Long term, there’s a lot more to think through. We need to have a better understanding where misinformation is born, who is creating and why, how it spreads, and the role bots play. But as we’re figuring that all out, here are two immediate action steps we can all take:

  1. Acknowledge that fake news is a form of attack. Recognize that you and other smart people you know have all been victims. Reframe your conversations around fake news. This isn’t something that just happens. Someone is behind it. When we acknowledge that we start to take power away from our attackers.
  2. Hold the Trump administration accountable when they amplify fake news and conspiracy theories. We’ve just had a minor victory with Michael Flynn Jr. It should the first and not the last. Shaming the Trump Administration when they aid in spreading misinformation is one of few pressure points we have, and I don’t expect Trump or his transition team to stop anytime soon.
Hilariously, Infowars has declared their own war on fake news. They’ve published a list of “fake news sites” that includes PBS, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Economist, and Wonkette!

More on Russia

The Obama Administration ordered a full review of Russian attempts to interfere with our election. The Washington Post broke a bombshell story that a secret CIA assessment concluded Russia was actively trying to ensure that Trump won the election. And our President-elect, who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, had his transition team issue a statement dismissing all of this entirely.

This wasn’t an attack on Democrats or Republicans but on America. Russia wasn’t looking to install a Republican President, but Trump specifically. They hacked both the Democratic and Republican National Committees before leaking DNC emails. It’s likely their propaganda played a role in both party primaries. In the end, the American public in its entirety was duped.

ICYMI


Coda

I want to thank everyone for spreading the word about this newsletter. We’re over 650 subscribers now, almost entirely from sharing and word of mouth. I’m overwhelmed by your interest but also your trust in me. Thanks also to Nicole Belle for copy editing this email.

I’ve enjoyed reading your responses and engaging in conversations. Each response has given me new insight or perspective. Please keep them coming!