One of the fundamental issues affecting the American body politic in the modern day was brought to the fore by the 2016 presidential election: fake news. In a media landscape built on sensationalism and click-bait, baseless rumors can be confused as headlines and evolve into viral sensations.
One such claim, perpetrated by the alt-right, is that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, are tied to an international human trafficking network, and head a child sex ring in Washington, D.C.
To be clear, there are absolutely zero facts to support even a tangential claim -- and yet, alleged alt-right sites like Breitbart News and The Washington Times continue to suggest the story may be true.
“A tweet by [Andrew] Breitbart shortly before his March 1, 2012, death is now being cited by online researchers as proof that they are onto something big,” The Washington Times said on Nov. 28.
The Times cites a February 2011 tweet by Brietbart News founder Andrew Breitbart about John Podesta.
“How prog-guru John Podesta isn't household name as world class underage sex slave op cover-upperer defending unspeakable dregs escapes me,” Breitbart’s tweet reads.
This new media landscape “means everything is true and nothing is true,” President Barack Obama told The New Yorker in the days leading up to the 2016 election.
Obama continued in the same vein:
An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.
According to Vox, in the wake of the election, companies like Facebook and Google have vowed to tackle the issue of fake news -- banning them from their sites, and/or removing them from their ad networks. Twitter has even reportedly begun shutting down fake news accounts.
But Jestin Coler, a self-professed fake news journalist, claims that the tactics these companies are employing will not work, notes NPR.
"There are literally hundreds of ad networks," he said. "Early last week, my inbox was just filled every day with people because they knew that Google was cracking down — hundreds of people wanting to work with my sites."
“Some of this has to fall on the readers themselves,” Coler added about what should be done to counter fake news. “The consumers of content have to be better at identifying this stuff. We have a whole nation of media-illiterate people. Really, there needs to be something done.”