The Death Throes of Fake News

More and more people, primarily those from Generation Z, are choosing to get their daily news from unconventional sources like PewNews, a YouTube news series hosted by internet personality PewDiePie which now averages more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. News organizations have taken notice and have continued their treacherous trend towards sensationalizing news headlines in an apparent attempt to gather more internet clicks.  This concept of basing online news success around the amount of Likes and Shares that a particular article or video receives, instead of quality, is precarious.

The practice of judging journalism by internet traffic is creating a lucrative opportunity for a new industry of firms selling followers and likes.  New York Attorney General Letitia James is hellbent on criminalizing this new multi-million-dollar service. On Jan. 30th, her office proudly claimed that it had reached a settlement with Devumi LLC, a now-broken company which sold likes and followers across all social media applications.

The attorney general’s office used this as a chance to declare this sort of fraudulent internet behavior as now illegal in the state of New York in a statement saying, “With this settlement, we are sending a clear message that anyone profiting off of [social media] deception and impersonation is breaking the law and will be held accountable.”  It is unknown whether they will pursue the customers of Devumi LLC on charges as well but as of writing this, in New York it is now legal to abort a baby in its last moments in the womb but paying for likes on Twitter is illegal.

Obsession with deceitful internet activities has grown since President Trump’s election and on Saturday, NBC posted a story with bold accusations that 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is engaged in this sort of social media fraud.  The report claims that “several experts who track websites and social media linked to the Kremlin have also seen what they believe may be the first stirrings of an upcoming Russian campaign of support for Gabbard.”  These experts that NBC is relying on to push the newest Russian-agent narrative is none other than the firm New Knowledge.

Here is where it gets interesting.  This firm, New Knowledge, was just outed in mid-December by a New York Times expose which revealed a scheme to link thousands of Russian social media accounts to Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore while simultaneously incentivizing national press to report that Moore’s campaign was in the pocket of the Kremlin, all for the purpose of influencing voters against him.

The firm used Russian-style accounts and had them suddenly flood Roy Moore’s social media shortly before the election.  Going further, they set up social media groups claiming to be conservative Alabamans, expressing doubts about Moore and encouraging Republicans to write in another candidate on their ballots.  The result was that Moore lost narrowly, and Republican voter turnout was notably depressed.

The leaders of this opposition experiment celebrated their disinformation project and even bragged about their success saying, “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

Now, it’s Tulsi Gabbard’s turn.  The new NBC article makes no mention of the New York Times’ six-week-old divulging of the firm behind the propaganda that framed Roy Moore while they write, “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”

In a world where likes and followers have been given a monetary value and even an unprecedented FBI investigation into a sitting president, it’s no surprise that companies or political candidates that base their success on them would offer cold, hard cash for their conception. This shady behavior is threatened when “less reputable” influencers, like PewDiePie, gain the same or more likes than the largest news organizations do, but organically.

Maybe if these news platforms were as obsessed with accuracy, or in NBC’s case- reporting all relevant information, as they are with obscure sensationalism, they wouldn’t have to waste their resources on attempting to stay relevant with new readers.

Jill Abramson, who led the New York Times as an executive editor between 2011-2014, recently said that the liberal bias within the paper is too obvious and it is causing its own death.  In her new book Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts she writes of her successor, “Though Baquet said publicly he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump… Some headlines contained raw opinion, as did some of the stories that were labeled as news analysis.” She continues adding that “the more anti-Trump the Times was perceived to be, the more it was mistrusted for being biased.”

When reporting accuracy is less of a priority than appealing to the extreme left or right ideologies of a new media’s most vocal subscribers, the natural course is that those in the majority in the middle will become untrusting and read the commentary packaged as “news” and label it as fake.

In the Aesop fable, “The Eagle and the Arrow,” an eagle is soaring through the air when it hears the whizz of an arrow.  Feeling a fatal wound, the eagle begins its descent towards the ground and death.  Looking down at the arrow that pierced it, the eagle notices that the shaft of the arrow is adorned with its own feathers.  “Alas!” it cries as it dies.        

These media conglomerates are bringing about their own demise.  Each embellished news story that is put out and then needs to be retracted or corrected after the public responds to the poor reporting, becomes the fletching on the end of the arrow shaft shot by a growing internet influencer from way below them.

Connect with Taylor Day on Twitter @TABYTCHI