Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Fake stories: A curse in modern society (Part 1)                                                            

 I have chosen to publish this article as part of a two-   part series.

I think I am safe when I say that fake stories have been circulating ever since humans could speak to one another. They also take form in gossip and public announcements. Sometimes they are harmless because they are amusing and other times they are frightening and disturbing.

The harmless ones such as Santa is real is fun for everyone. The moon is made of cheese and pigs fly is ridiculous but harmless because they are not believable.

I will tell you of two fake stories that I was told when I was eleven years of age in 1945 while I was living in a small mining town in the middle of British Columbia. When we learned that two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, we also were told that if any more atomic bombs were exploded, they would burn the earth’s oxygen and we would all suffocate to death. This was a terrifying story. The second story was told by two mischievous boys who told the mother of another boy that her son had just drowned in the lake. The story was not true and was extremely disturbing to the poor woman.  

 Section 371 of the Criminal Code of Canada states as follows;

Everyone commits an offence who, with intent to injure or alarm a person, conveys information that they know is false, or causes such information to be conveyed by letter or any means of telecommunication.

(4) Everyone who commits an offence under this section is
(a) guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years; or
(b) guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. (which can still mean imprisonment or other form of punishment)

Strangely enough, the Code no longer has the words--or otherwise which would mean by a conversation face to face which could be frightening and disturbing. However it is against the law to yell FIRE! in a building when there is no fire.   

As many as 15 per cent of online reviews are fake. A wide variety of internet marketing companies, online reputation firms and freelance reviewers supply fake testimonials to popular review websites for a price.           

Most of the reviews online are legitimate, but the problem with fake reviews will continue to grow.

The internet and social media are great resources for finding information, but they're also the perfect vehicles for spreading misinformation.

Fox News host Sean Hannity shared a story about President Obama and the First Lady deleting tweets that endorsed Hillary Clinton. The only problem was that story wasn't true. Hannity later apologized on his radio show, but it was a perfect example of how big names in news can spread fake stories.

In October, 2016, a story claimed that "tens of thousands" of fraudulent ballots had been found in a warehouse in Ohio. The ballots had supposedly been cast for Hillary Clinton and were found inside sealed ballot boxes that would be counted alongside real election ballot boxes. The story, first published online by the Christian Times Newspaper, was disproven by Snopes—but not before it went viral.

A story claiming that Megyn Kelly was fired by Fox News began circulating in August. It said Kelly was allegedly let go after she endorsed Clinton, criticized Donald Trump and suffered a drop in ratings that placed her behind MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. The story was traced to and was proven to be false—in fact, Fox News recently offered Kelly over $20 million a year to remain with the network. Still, one version of the fake story was shared with more than 724,000 people. It was also shared by a Colorado for Trump Facebook page.

A fake story hit the media stating that the NBA canceled the 2017 All-Star Game in North Carolina. The NBA did eventually move the 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina but not until July. In April, a story surfaced that said the game was canceled in protest of North Carolina's anti-gay bathroom bill. It was published on a fake site posing as ABC News. The fake story was picked up and reported by real news sites like and NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk. Eventually both sites issued corrections. The original fake story was shared to more than 2.4 million people on social media.

In November 2015, a story claimed that Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke had been exposed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The story about Clarke, who is African-American, was published by a website called the National Report, but the story was eventually disproven. Before the story was discredited, it was disclosed to more than 449,000 people. Comedian DL Hughley even posted the story on Twitter to his hundreds of thousands of followers.

The Internet is a breeding ground for radical ideologies and bizarre conspiracy theories that can quickly move troubled souls to violence. And in an age when fake news is magnified by those with political and financial interests, the problem is getting harder to stop.

A bizarre story of a conspiracy prompted 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch to drive from North Carolina to launch his own violent investigation. The false theory that spurred Welch to action was that that a child sex ring tied to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and campaign chairman John Podesta was operating beneath Comet Ping Pong restaurant. The fake story was spread through Twitter, 4chan and Reddit, and was magnified on Infowars by talk-show host Alex Jones. People came to refer to it by the hashtag "Pizzagate." After firing his gun inside the establishment, Welch was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. No one was injured. The FBI and D.C. police assessed the claims and determined them to be false. The rumor that was spread nonetheless sparked the shop and neighboring businesses to receive threats and harassment.

The son of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, embraced the baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton  after Welch claimed to be investigating the hoax, fired his rifle inside the pizza parlor in Northwest Washington, D.C.

FBI Director James Comey said his agents were focused on a "much more disparate threat that is hard to see, unpredictable, motivated, and driven by people who are just disturbed and unpredictable even to those who would motivate them.  

There are several well-known examples of conspiracy theorists carrying out acts of violence. Robert Dear, who killed three people and wounded nine others in an attack on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, told a neighbor that he believed the government was "trying to kill everybody." A Twitter account linked to one of the Boston Marathon bombers seemed to espouse the view that the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, was an "inside job." In a more recent case, the FBI arrested a Milwaukee man, Samy Mohamed Hamzeh, who the agency alleged was plotting a mass shooting at a Masonic temple and believed Masons were "playing with the world like a game."

These misfits no doubt heard false stories that prompted them to commit their crimes.

In an article published by AWDNews on December 20, 2016, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was quoted as threatening to destroy Pakistan if it sent troops into Syria. "We will destroy them with a nuclear attack," the article quoted Yaalon as saying. There is no evidence Yaalon ever said those words. Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Asif responded to the fake news article on his official Twitter account as if it were real. He warned Israel that it was not the only nuclear power.  "Israeli (defense minister) threatens nuclear retaliation presuming Pakistan’s role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear State too." Less than a day later, the Israeli Ministry of Defense responded on Twitter, notifying Asif the Yaalon statement quoted in AWDNews was completely false."The statement attributed to the former Defense Minister, Yaalon regarding Pakistan was never said," the ministry tweeted on its account. "Reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false.”

Fake news and conspiracy theories have other pernicious effects. The Russian government, for example, reportedly tried to spread false stories online to impact the US election. At the National Security Division’s event earlier in 2016, Comey said he was concerned that Twitter in particular allowed people to reinforce their own views, irrespective of facts, and that this eroded trust in government institutions.

It used to be that a disturbed person at a bar late at night would shout his version of an event which never occurred to the other people who were at the other end of the bar. Nowadays, he can tell thousands of people via Titter of his false stories which will continue to be spread like oil over calm waters.

The United States’ First Amendment prevents law enforcement agencies from policing free speech by enlisting government agents to enter chat rooms and raise doubts about conspiracy theorists' ideas. Government officials would participate anonymously with false identities. Quite frankly, I don’t see why they can’t do this.

Justice Department guidelines state that agents can proactively surf the Internet in search of possible terror plots, though agents have little time to randomly browse the Web to generate leads.

The FBI can't monitor millions of Twitter users and their traffic, nor would they want to do.  That's the beauty of living in a free society. You're allowed to be crazy and make crazy statements if they are strictly your opinion. But if you declare them to be factual when you know they ae not and you know that they are not the truth; then you are in serious trouble.

Putting a stop to the spread of misinformation can be difficult. You can never get rid of the information once it's out there.

Tech platforms are protected under the Communications Decency Act, a unique U.S. legal protection that gives a broad layer of immunity to online companies from being held liable for content posted by users. There are exceptions, but the law is meant to preserve freedom of expression. Companies are supposed to act in good faith to protect users.

CEO Steve Huffman said Reddit has identified hundreds of users that it will take action against, ranging from warnings to timeouts and outright bans. This comes one week after Huffman tried a different approach: He trolled the trolls. He secretly, and controversially, edited reddit posts that attacked him in the Donald Trump-related subreddit, r/the donald and directed the vitriol at the page's moderators instead.

Part 2 will follow on Friday, January 6th

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