Shia Altman
Shia Altman

Fake news

No, no, not from me! Even though some of you think what I write is fake. Nope. Opinions buttressed with facts, granted, used for my own bias whatever that might be, however I feel, on whichever day I write. The only thing fake about me is my personality. And my knees.

This past Sunday, the CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes had a report about fake news. Fake news, exactly what the term implies, has been around for a long time. Propaganda to push a particular view, politician, or narrative has been part of our information fabric for as long as there were people roaming the earth.

Of course, it hadn’t become part of the political lexicon as it has become since last year, that of the primaries and general election which gave us two very flawed candidates, either of whom would have a very hard time governing after a win. And so it is.

Lie dissemination goes back to the Bible. And for those who prefer Darwin, I am sure once man stood upright and was only able to communicate with grunts or with scratches on walls, fake stories made their way from one clan to the next.

For the more advanced prehistoric caveman like Fred Flintstone, the latest goings-on were tapped harshly by birds with strong beaks into small rectangular slabs of stone – headlines, columns and even pictures. The news of that time did weigh heavily on its readers, as it does with us now. (Get it? “Weigh heavily?” See, because the news was etched on stone slabs. See? OK, sorry.)

But since this last presidential campaign, things have gone completely loony tunes. (Get it? Loony tunes? See, I am using a double entendre with that term because it could refer to cartoons like The Flintstones which I just mentioned – and yes, I know The Flintstones show was not from the Looney Tunes animation studio, but it was still a cartoon – or people who are just plain looney, as in lunatic. See? Do you get it? I cleverly, oh forget it!)

You know, it used to be we just had fake politicians and not all this news fakery. Now we have both. The anger and the hatred on both sides helped create this cottage industry of those all too willing to take advantage of those all too willing to be taken advantage of. (I know, I know, I just ended a sentence with a preposition which I try not to do, but look at how well it worked.)

Left and right, the websites and the videos and the memes make their way through the social media cybersphere catching otherwise decent (and some not so decent) people in the con artists’ webs of deceit. And then these “shocking” or “outrageous” revelations are moved along en masse, and in exponential mass, in some fashion, to the rest of the pitch-forked populations.

Many news manipulators do it for the money. There are ads on the pages of deception and some generate income just by someone clicking on a page’s ad. A click-through might only be worth a penny or even less, but thousands upon thousands of pennies or fractions of same and, well, it adds up to lots of bucks.

In the 60 Minutes story, one joker was making $10,000 a month! Ah, the internet. Perhaps I should do the same. Seems like easy money for wordsmiths. No, I can’t do it. I have a conscience. (Hmm, let’s see, 500,000 clicks times a penny…)

Now it is true, there are those who spread their vitriol or well-disguised “facts” just for the sake of their lunacy. And the “fringers” left and right who salivatingly (some don’t accept this as a word, but I like it because it fits) wait for the latest tantalizing trash to enter their inboxes or twitter accounts or text messaging mechanisms or whatever else they have going on, because they are part of some ever-reaching social media mill whose odious tentacles stretch to the far reaches of the earth.

The naïve, ever thirsty for as much, feel better by getting more angry, nonsense as possible, are snookered by the money-makers or the true believers. And the headlines posted, many times not even matching the story underneath, which may actually be true but is irrelevant and benign, are exaggerated for maximum affront. Many of the fooled simply look at the headline alone, gladly assume the worst, and forward the piece along.

Heaven forbid many of those on the receiving end should check any story. Or a good number don’t care anyway. What matters most is to damage the target.

Many fake news sites are created quite well, and of course the more professional they look, the more believable they are.

I have seen websites sent my way or posted that are virtual copies of mainstream media outlet sites, albeit with a slight change in the “url,” the site’s internet address. The ads might even be the same, but of course, the affiliate (the one receiving revenue by advertising for a company or service) code, which can be masked, is changed so that the faker gets the money from any purchase, and not the real news outlet.

For further credibility, some sites’ writers mix real news with fake news. “Well I know that is true, so therefore, this must be true too.” Other writers will use old news as current news making sure the explosive headline along with the article don’t give anything away. “Well, I seem to remember that happening, so it must be true now.”

Some sites are not so slick, but as long as they have catchy names, names that can incite either acrimony or patriotism for example, they will still make the rounds. Plenty. Others distribute video channel logs or made up images with part fact and part lie, or all lie. Emotions are stirred and the audience loves it. Or hates it. Or loves to hate it. You know what I mean.

Interestingly, this from an interview within the 60 minutes piece:

To get an idea of who reads fake news we turned to the Trade Desk. The Internet advertising firm that helps companies steer clear of fraudulent sites. Jeff Green is the CEO.

Jeff Green: So the first thing that we found out is that it is definitely a phenomenon that affects both sides.

Scott Pelley (CBS News): Liberals and Conservatives.

Jeff Green: There is no question they’re both affected.

One fake story, Green examined claimed that the Congress was plotting to overthrow President Trump. He was surprised to learn that right-leaning fake news overwhelmingly attracted readers in their 40s and 50s. And he also found fake-news readers on the left were more likely to be affluent and college-educated.

Jeff Green: That shocked me.

Scott Pelley: Why?

Jeff Green: I think I thought the same way that many Americans perhaps think is that fake news was a phenomenon that only tricked the uneducated. Not true. Just not. The data shows it’s just not true.

Green’s analysis showed fake news consumers tend to stay in, what he calls, Internet echo chambers, reading similar articles rather than reaching for legitimate news.

Jeff Green: What is most concerning is the amount of influence that they seem to have because the people that spend time in those echo chambers are the ones that vote.

Yikes! It’s one thing for the uneducated, but shouldn’t smarter people be um, smarter? College is expensive. You’d think all those millions of clicks for tuition would have gone to good use. But, as we all know, smarts and common sense are indeed two different things.

A quote attributed to P. T. Barnum is, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Notice the implied caveat? Some say he never made the quote, and I don’t want this information to be er, you know, fake.) Hopefully, like Mr. Barnum’s entertainment circus, closing down very soon because of waning interest and dropping revenues, the fake news circus will go the same route just as quickly. Somehow though, I doubt it.

About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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