News and politics junkies – and because you’re reading this you’re probably one of them – are familiar with PolitiFact, the nonprofit news site that specializes in fact-checking speeches, written statements, and other pronouncements by candidates and elected officials.
Founded by the Tampa Bay Times in 2010, PolitiFact now partners with newspapers and broadcasters in 16 states to keep tabs on state and local elected officials and double-check major political news stories. Its “Truth-O-Meter’s” failing grade, “Pants-On-Fire” has rapidly become every candidate’s nightmare.
PolitiFact’s editors announced Thursday that they’re branching into the burgeoning world of “fake news.” Working with Facebook, where phony news stories from bogus news organizations are regularly shared with millions of internet users around the world, they’ve created a “fake news almanac,” to identify and sound the alarm about fake news sites. The almanac now lists 156 websites and – unfortunately – will almost certainly be growing.
The PolitiFact effort is a welcome counterpoint to President Trump’s habit of using the “fake news” label in attempts to discredit legitimate news stories that the president just doesn’t like. It belongs on every web user’s list of bookmarks.
The almanac includes sites like DailySnark.com and GummyPost.com, whose URLs probably serve to alert most users not to take their contents too seriously. But there are other sites that look legitimate. A casual browser might easily confuse NBC.com.co with a real NBC News website, for example and innocently spread stories like the phony one on that site today claiming that former President Barack Obama is planning to run for a third term. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution limits every president to two terms.
The danger posed by fake news is coming into sharp focus as Congress pursues investigations of Russian interference – much of it through fake news channels - in last year’s election. Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies already have concluded that a Russian government-sponsored assortment of internet hackers and trolls deliberately spread fake news, mostly about Hillary Clinton, last fall in hopes of disrupting the U.S. election.
Clint Watts, a former FBI agent, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last month that “Russian active measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of five complementary objectives:
- One, undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
- Two, foment, exacerbate divisive political fissures;
- Three, erode trust between citizens and elected officials and their institutions;
- Four, popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations; and
- Five, create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction — a very pertinent issue today in our country.
“From these objectives the Kremlin can crumble democracies from the inside out,” Watts observed, achieving two key milestones: the disillusion of the European Union; and the break-up of NATO.
America’s free press and the free flow of information are cornerstones of our democracy but they also allow fake news to flourish. Regular visits to sites like PolitiFact’s almanac are a good way for citizens to fight back.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Media and Democracy