On Dec. 4, a 28-year-old man walked into the Washington D.C. pizza parlor Comet Ping Pong and opened fire with an assault rifle. His expressed goals were unclear, even to him, but he had come to the shop to investigate a scandal.
Pizzagate, as it has become known, is a conspiracy theory circling right-wing news sites positing that Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta operate a child sex-slave ring out of the basement of the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop. The theory, patently false, originated from a batch of emails discovered on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s computer in which Clinton and Podesta discussed pizza more. According to the Independent, conspiracy theorists in the Alt-Right began claiming that the word “pizza” was in fact code for the word “girl."
“When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” conservative talk-show host Alex Jones said on his InfoWars YouTube show on Nov. 4, reports The Washington Post. “Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.”
All of these claims are untrue, yet, news stories continue to circulate the internet claiming their validity.
On Dec. 8, during a speech given to retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton addressed the “epidemic” of fake news around the country.
"This is not about politics or partisanship," she said, according to Politico. “Lives are at risk.”
President Barack Obama has also raised alarm at the rise of fake news.
Obama described a new media landscape that “means everything is true and nothing is true,” during an interview with the New Yorker. “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.”
Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us. And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.