FACT CHECKING FAKE NEWS AND THE PEACE MOVEMENT by Robert Meroney

“Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect,” Jonathan Swift wrote in The Examiner No. XIV in 1710.

Fake or junk news is a type of propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via print, broadcast or online social media. Different fake news types might include: news satire, news parody, fabrication, photo manipulation, advertising, and propaganda. Sometimes fake news might include “gray” news, that is fake news can be embedded within truth and verifiable statements, or video clips can be edited, and photos cropped to give a different story than really happened. Fake news is often designed to take advantage of confirmation biases that encourage the recipient to automatically accept news items that confirm existing opinions. Unfortunately, fake news can be designed to aggravate conflict, disparage arguments for peace, destroy faith in truthful news media, and even destroy the reputations of peace spokesmen.

Fake news designed to aggravate conflict: In the Fall 2016 the personal email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was hacked and his emails leaked by Wikigate. Proponents of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory claimed that the emails revealed that Bill and Hillary Clinton and democratic leaders were connected with a child sex trafficking ring involving the Washington D.C. restaurant Comet Ping Pong. Members of the alt-right and various Clinton opponents like Alex Jones of Infowars spread the theory on social media that led to a poll showing 46% of Trump voters believed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. This included a gullible conservative, Edgar Welch, who shot up the Comet Ping Pong restaurant with an assault rifle and threatened customers. The case was thoroughly investigated by Snopes.com, the New York Times, FactCheck.org, Fox News, and Time magazine and declared entirely false in all details.[1]

Sadly, fake news has been used to involve the United States in wars by its own leaders. Even founding father, Benjamin Franklin, used a fabricated story about how Seneca Indians were encouraged by the British to murder and scalp “defenseless, farmers, women and children” to incite colonial solidarity.[2] The Hearst newspaper chain promoted the Spanish American War in 1898 with the slogan “Remember the Maine” after publishing the false story that the explosion on the USS Maine in Cuba was a result of Spanish aggression.[3] The Gulf of Tonkin incidents that were used to draw the United States into the Vietnam War in 1964 were twisted into fake news by the Johnson administration to justify escalating the war.[4], [5] Fake stories about weapons of mass destruction, WMDs, in Iraq led President Bush to declare war.[6], [7]

Fake news has been used abroad to cause violence in India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. In Myanmar the primary source of public news tends to be government Facebook accounts which claimed that the Rohingya are burning their own villages, showed bodies of soldiers (that were actually from other conflicts) claiming they died from Rohingya attacks, and called the Rohingya ‘Bengalis’ immigrants.[8]

Fake news used to disparage peace initiatives:   The satirical evangelical Christian website, The Babylon Bee, published an article titled “ISIS Lays Down Arms After Katy Perry’s Impassioned Plea to ‘Like, Just Co-Exist.” It claimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, confirmed that ISIS would immediately be surrendering its fight to establish a caliphate after viewing an interview with pop singer Katy Perry. [9] PunditFact rated the article, which was accepted as truth by many conservatives and heavily mocked as politically naïve liberalism, as “Pants on Fire False.”[10]

Fake News used to destroy faith in the news media:   In a strange twist, both US and foreign governments are declaring anything that they disagree with or deny as “fake news”; thus, often branding truth and faithful reporting as non-believable. The Syrian government used such a method to label news stories about their execution of prisoners, massacre of civilians and use of chemical weapons as fake news. The Chinese military has a website to report malicious posts about the People’s Liberation Army, and the Russian Foreign Ministry operates a webpage which slaps non-approved news with a bright red “FAKE” stamp.   All this just to stamp out criticism and dismiss detractors. In the US President Trump is a major user of this methodology.[11]

Fake News used to destroy reputations of peace spokesmen: Peace proponents and activists are often the target for malicious fake news and slander. False news about many prominent leaders is so heavily embedded in the news it has become almost impossible to even separate truth from fiction. A few examples might include:

  • Abraham Lincoln saw himself as a “peacemaker”. He always preferred mediation and conciliation over adjudication, because he felt invoking the law was an “antisocial” act where everyone frequently lost.[12] In 1864 Lincoln was accused in a widely circulated pamphlet of favoring miscegenation to produce a new super-race of blacks and whites.[13] The story followed Lincoln throughout his political career. It was picked up and spread by pro-slave newspapers throughout the United States. The pamphlet may have been “American history’s most successful fake news campaign.”
  • Eleanor Roosevelt fought for women’s rights, labor rights, and civil rights. She was deemed by fake news writers a communist, a “class traitor”, and unladylike. She was heavily criticized when she resigned from the DAR when the organization refused to allow Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall. The FBI claimed that “Eleanor Clubs”, which were rumored to be organized groups of African-American maids, were subversive groups and pro-communist. These club claims were later proved false. [14]
  • Martin Luther King Jr. spoke against US war actions and for the rights of all abused groups. But he was deemed by some news media a communist, communist sympathizer, glory seeker, womanizer, plagiarizer, to have a messiah complex, and some who failed to support his own family. Again, the FBI maintained surveillance of King and his wife for un-American activities for many years.[15]
  • Nelson Mandela organized against and fought apartheid in South Africa. He admitted to sabotaging government property but consistently opposed taking life. He was eventually jailed many years for sabotage but was released and became South Africa’s first black president. He was variously accused of adultery, selling out to whites, being anti-American and pro-communist (because he criticized the American involvement in the Iraq war),. He was accused of supporting terrorism, and being vain about his appearance.[16], [17]

Sadly, given today’s media technology it is possible to make extremely realistic videos of individuals using photoshopping and dubbing techniques. In April 2018 a public service video was produced of President Barack Obama by Jordan Peele, an Obama impersonator, and Buzzfeed that demonstrated that what you see may not be reality.[18] “We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time, even if they would never say those things,” Peele-as-Obama said.

Conclusion: We all need to be more vigilant as to what we trust from the internet and use trustworthy news sources with a track record of reliability if we wish to support world peace.

[1] https://www.factcheck.org/2018/01/no-democratic-prostitute-ring-n-j/

[2] http://www.reenactmag.com/ben-franklin-created-fake-news/

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/08/the-press-doesnt-cause-warspresidents-do/566834/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incident

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhomonoff/2017/09/29/ken-burns-vietnam-war-echoes-of-journalists-battle-against-fake-news/#75284882a787

[6] https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-lie-of-the-21st-century-how-mainstream-media-fake-news-led-to-the-u-s-invasion-of-iraq/5558813

[7] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22794451/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/study-bush-led-us-war-false-pretenses/

[8] https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-11-01/myanmar-fake-news-spread-facebook-stokes-ethnic-violence

[9] https://babylonbee.com/news/isis-lays-arms-katy-perrys-impassioned-plea-like-just-co-exist/

[10] https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/sep/08/babylon-bee/no-isis-didnt-lay-down-its-arms-after-katy-perry-e/

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/trump-world-fake-news/548888/

[12] https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0016.203/–lawyer-as-peacemaker-law-and-community-in-abraham-lincolns?rgn=main;view=fulltext

[13] https://qz.com/842816/fake-news-almost-destroyed-abraham-lincoln/

[14] http://fdrfoundation.org/they-hated-eleanor-too/

[15] http://www.markedbyteachers.com/gcse/history/why-was-martin-luther-king-both-so-bitterly-criticised-and-so-deeply-mourned-by-black-citizens-of-the-usa.html

[16] https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/12/06/think-again-nelson-mandela/

[17] https://www.thedailybeast.com/dont-sanitize-nelson-mandela-hes-honored-now-but-was-hated-then

[18] https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/jordan-peele-obama-fake-news-video-buzzfeed-1202755517/

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