Host of CNN's Reliable Sources Brian Stelter comments on the disease of "fake news" that is infecting the internet. Stelter said the problem occurs more on the right than the left, particularly with Trump supporters.
Stelter wondered if news is moving into an "authoritarian media climate" like Russia or China.
"How does this end? With no one trusting anything?" Stelter bemoaned.
"There's more fact- checking than ever, but fewer people trusting the facts. Are we moving more into an authoritarian media climate, more like Russia or China?" he asked.
From Sunday's broadcast:
BRIAN STELTER, RELIABLE SOURCES: I've been thinking a lot about confusion and who it helps. Fake news websites set out to confuse people, but they're only one symptom of a bigger broader disease, a break down in trust, a break down in a shared set of facts.
This had been happening well before Donald Trump entered the presidential race, but it is now accelerating. We are entering a terrible new age of information warfare. And it brings to mind that old adage, "The first casualty of war is the truth."
This war so to speak is playing out right on your smartphone, right on your Facebook news feed, where made up stories spread to millions of people.
Here are a few recent examples. The Pope endorsing Trump, fake. Megyn Kelly fired for becoming Hillary Clinton, fake. Clinton committed -- Clinton linked to crimes committed by Anthony Weiner also fake. But that one was treated by retired General Michael Flynn, Trump's pick for national security advisor.
This is the kind of B.S. that Facebook and Twitter and Google have to grapple with, but we have to grapple with it ourselves individually. Those stories I just mentioned are all pretty easily disproven, they are the most basic pure form of fake news. And when I say fake news, I mean stories designed to trick people into believing lies -- deception 101.
Now, I have a hard time believing any creator of any fake news website, but one of them Paul Horner spoke with the "Washington Post" this week and look at what he said. Quote, "I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His campaign manager posted my story about a protesting getting paid $3,500 as fact. I made that up."
Horner went on to say, "I thought they would fact check it and would make them look worse. But Trump supporters -- they just keep running with it. They never fact-check anything."
Now, to be clear, fake news infects the left and the right. I have seen Clinton supporters sharing fake links this week with election- related conspiracy theories.
But the evidence indicates that this is more of a problem on the right, among some, not all, but some Trump supporters.
Further research is needed to understand why online lies are so appealing to some voters. But I would suggest to you that it starts at the top.
After all, Trump himself frequently misled voters during this campaign. And he has been personally fooled by fictional stories. Remember when he said, "All I know is what's on the Internet"?
This was in March after a protester rushed the stage at one of his rallies. The Secret Service thankfully intervened, but Trump then asserted the protester had ties to ISIS.
Watch how Chuck Todd tried to correct him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": You praised the Secret Service, but then you said the man had ties to ISIS. That turned out to be a hoax. Did you go over the top there on that? Where did you get evidence?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: No. No. No. No.
He was -- he was if you look on the Internet, if you look at clips where he's dragging an American flag...
TODD: Which turned out to be a hoax. Somebody made that up, sir.
TRUMP: Excuse me. He had -- he had -- talk -- well, I don't know what they made up. All I can do is play what is there.
And, supposedly there was chatter about ISIS. Now, I don't know. What do I know about it? All I know is what's on the Internet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Now, the contrast between the next president and the sitting president could not be more extreme.
President Obama is deeply concerned about people believing just everything they read on the Internet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we are not serious about facts and what's true and what's not, and particularly in an age of social media, where so many people are getting their information in sound bites and snippets off their phones, if we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: We do have problems.
I think everybody feels it right now. One of the problems is that fake news Web sites are so easy to set up and so profitable for the creators. Every time we click and share, they make more money, but we are worse off. So, Facebook and Google are now trying to choke off the ads that show
up on these sites, trying to make them less profitable. But that is a losing battle. These fake news sites are always going to exist. In fact, they're probably going to get better at blending in and looking real.
The same goes for hyperpartisan blogs and Facebook pages that only tell people what they want to hear, that celebrate their side and demonize the other side.
You know, on this program, we used to talk about red news, blue news, but we are now way beyond just red news and blue news. We are in an environment where some people are choosing to be colorblind.
Media literacy is part of the solution here. As a society, we need to help each other distinguish between reliable and bogus stories. The more media-literate you are, the less likely you will be tricked by propaganda.
And that's what it is, propaganda. Journalism is also a big part of the solution. As an industry, we have to redouble our efforts to restore our credibility.
But, to tell you the truth, these are not satisfying or complete answers to the problem. I don't have complete answers. I know a lot of us are going to be gathering around Thanksgiving tables in a few days unable to see eye to eye about basic facts.
In this age of information warfare, every person can just pull out their smartphone and pull up a story that tells them they are right and their loved one is wrong.
How does this end? With no one trusting anything? There's more fact- checking than ever, but fewer people trusting the facts. Are we moving more into an authoritarian media climate, more like Russia or China?
I don't know. I feel so empty and, frankly, so pessimistic about this.
But I know that people in power all around the world benefit from confusion. They benefit from this confusion. So, we must be vigilant as journalists and as Facebook users and as family members at Thanksgiving.
Refuse to be confused.
Now, that's all for that essay this week. I have got to tell you, I don't have the answers, as I said, but I'm trying to figure it out. And I appreciate your feedback.
So, send me a tweet, send me a Facebook message, @BrianStelter on both sites.