We've now found out that in addition to the Russians, China, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads to spread propaganda around the world, including to the United States.
Add to that conspiracists reacting quickly to breaking news, using YouTube to spread crackpot theories.
An hour after the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting, one right-wing nutcase had filmed, edited and uploaded a three-minute monologue to his YouTube page, speculating that the gunman was probably “either a Muslim or black.” Later, after the shooter was identified as a white man named Devin P. Kelley, right-wing guy posted a follow-up video, this time claiming that Kelley was most likely a Bernie Sanders supporter associated with left-wing antifascist group antifa, who may have converted to Islam.
This moron's other productions have included “Barack and Michelle Obama Both Come Out of The Closet,” which garnered 1.6 million views, and “Hillary Clinton Is On Crack Cocaine,” which had 665,000.
I don't know what else has to happen for the American public to understand that just because they see something on the Internet doesn't make it true.
It reminds me of when my kids first had access to the web, ostensibly for homework, and would come to me insisting that some urban myth they read was "true." It took years for me to teach them to research positions they espoused (which as teens, changed more often than the seasons in New England). Painfully, they learned they had better come well-prepared to the dinner table if they had a POV they wanted to throw into the conversation.
You could see their faces drop if they couldn't answer my constant query, "Says who?"
It appears the nation could use a giant "Says who?"
A long time ago (much about the Internet seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?), when news organizations were starting to get killed by internet-only click-baiters like BuzzFeed, I wrote that advertisers would eventually support news organizations with a history of quality journalism, the established brands, if you will: The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, Washington Post, WSJ, and newswires like AP and Reuters (there are others, but you get the drift here.) I still believe that, but now I think that supporting quality journalism is more important than reaching their audiences to move product.
Back when the Washington Post first became essentially a monopoly in the DC market, the paper was making money hand over fist. I worked on some speeches for publisher Kay Graham helping the public understand that the more financially stable news organizations were, the better able they were to withstand pressure from special interests (including advertisers) and maintain their objectivity. This has never been truer than today.
If you are a student of such things, you can see where news organizations (especially secondary, tertiary brands and trade publications), suffering under the financial pressures brought on by the Internet, have compromised on what used to be a very strict separation of church and state. It is sad to see.
And I hope brands will step up and more strongly support trusted journalism in this country. They should promote themselves as "proud sponsors of quality journalism." That phrase would certain register with me for purchase decisions.
The creators of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 thought the notion of real news important enough to enshrine it in the state's founding document: "Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people," they wrote, are "necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties."It is ever more true today.