Everywhere we turn these days, someone’s trying to peddle fake news.
I’m talking the legitimately fake fake news, not bona fide facts and stories Donald Trump tries to discredit when he’s demonizing the American media.
Sometimes, it’s willful, like in the case of the current occupant of the White House. But oftentimes, it’s simply everyday people too eagerly accepting and sharing falsehoods without vetting them properly.
Earlier this week, a reader sent me a farcical commentary purporting to be from the respected conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, claiming that former President Barack Obama is marshaling an army of Organizing for Action activists into a shadow government that aims to undo all of Trump’s accomplishments.
I didn’t have to read beyond the first sentence to know this bit of transparent propaganda was not written by Krauthammer, a serious and restrained writer who does not throw bombs or play loose with facts and attribution.
Sure enough, a simple Google search for “Obama OFA” turned up hits from snopes.com debunking the claim and its link to Krauthamer and tracking down the original author.
Yet, because the narrative fit this reader’s world view, he forwarded it right on as supposed fact, spreading misinformation and lies — one small example of the cancer that is destroying trust in this country.
A few days later, I came upon an outlandish post shared by a relative on Facebook that claimed liberal billionaire George Soros was a Nazi SS officer. It featured a photo, supposedly of Soros in all his youthful, fascist glory.
If you’re a conservative Republican, you might be inclined to believe that. You may really want to believe it.
Don’t. It was a lie. And an easily exposed one, at that.
Once again, a simple Google search for “Soros Nazi” turns up a snopes.com fact check, which obliterates the claim and even tracks down who the person in the photo actually is.
In each of these cases, one involving someone I know and trust and another a stranger, I corrected the fabricated information, cited authoritative sources and asked them to be careful about the things they chose to share.
This is something we all need to do as citizens and defenders of truth, so I was cheered when Cal Poly scheduled a panel on the subject.
The “fake news” event planned for last week was a great opportunity to get some experts together to discuss this threat to our democracy and inform the public about steps they can take.
Only it didn’t turn out that way, and blame for the collapse as well as any hope of resurrecting it last week, can be laid solely at the feet of the Cal Poly College Republicans.
The panel should have been populated with serious, reasoned professionals, but the Republican club picked as its first choice for a representative an untrustworthy commentator with a history of linking race to intelligence.
That revelation led multiple participants to drop out, and the panel crumbled.
Nevertheless, the Republican club continued to do its best to revive the event by offering up an even more ridiculous panelist: Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart editor and college campus provocateur who lost his day job over his approving comments on pedophilia.
The College of Liberal Arts justifiably ruled Yiannopoulos an unacceptable choice, as he had just appeared on campus a year ago generating big protests and a $65,000 bill for security.
But forget that, what does a celebrity rabble-rouser with bias streak a mile long know about journalism?
With that decision, the Republican club finally stomped off, muttering about holding its own fake news panel at some future date.
Once this thing started to spiral out of control, the College of Liberal Arts, the Cal Poly journalism department, and the legit members of the panel did the right thing in backing out.
The last thing we need is a discussion on fake news hijacked by purveyors of that scourge.
They’re free to live in their little fantasy worlds and spread their fiction as they see fit, but they should never be treated as authorities in a serious discussion on this topic.
It’s a shame that the Cal Poly Republicans have proven once again that they can’t be trusted to offer up responsible representatives. They are apparently only interested in trolling the rest of us for their own amusement.
That is not a path toward a healthier democracy, which more than ever today requires all of us to be vigilant and ready to stand up for the facts.