Opinions

Colby ’20: The left can be fake, too

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, February 9, 2017

Just weeks after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, statements from the White House have led many journalists to call Trump’s tenure a “post-truth presidency.” This allegation is a result of Trump’s claims that “any negative polls are fake news” and that CNN is a “terrible… fake news” organization. Meanwhile, Trump surrogate and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has claimed the existence of “alternative facts” and lied about a nonexistent terrorist attack that she called the “Bowling Green massacre” to make a point about the dangers of refugees. These statements are a small sample of the egregious fabrications coming from the Trump administration. The administration’s remarks — along with conservative media sources, like Breitbart and Infowars, which often propagate fake and polarizing news — have led many liberals to believe that fake news is a primarily Republican problem. But that isn’t the case. While  Democrats aren’t flagrantly spreading mistruths like Trump, false news and narratives arise from the left, too, more than many liberals are willing to admit.

Pundits and liberal media sources have regularly accused conservative media outlets of promoting falsehoods. Salon’s Matthew Sheffield asserted, “Fake news has always been much more of an issue for conservatives.” The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham published an article titled, “Why conservatives might be more likely to fall for fake news,” and Vox’s Jason Mittell and Chuck Tryon claimed, “Fake stories about Hillary Clinton being a murderer emerged from a long legacy of right-wing media that has long pushed against established norms of journalism to spread fear and distrust.”

One of the most popular liberal media sources on Facebook, “Occupy Democrats,” which has over 5.7 million likes, regularly pushes lies with a heavy liberal bias. PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, Pulizer Prize-winning website, reviewed a sample of Occupy Democrats’ Facebook posts and found that 66 percent of the claims assessed were “false” or “pants on fire” lies. In one post published Nov. 25, Occupy Democrats reported, “Three Wisconsin counties admit to fixing the vote in favor of Donald Trump.” This was incorrect, and no county ever “admitted” to fixing votes or committing voter fraud. Still, most lies on the page go unnoticed and a simple scroll down the Occupy Democrats Facebook page reveals more mistruths. A post published Feb. 7 claimed that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, was the only Democrat to vote against “every Trump cabinet appointment.” But even she voted for the confirmation of Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the United Nations, a position that comes with cabinet status.

Unfortunately, as far as leftist social media goes, Occupy Democrats is not an exception. Popular liberal Facebook pages — such as “The Other 98%” and “Addicting Info,” which have 4.5 million and 1.2 million likes, respectively — are similarly unreliable. PolitiFact’s review of The Other 98% found that 75 percent of sampled statements were mostly false, and their review of Addicting Info was equally damning. Addicting Info has published headlines like “Russia minted ‘In Trump We Trust’ coins ahead of the 45th U.S. president’s inauguration,” without informing readers that the coin was made by a private company, unrelated to the Russian government. Moreover, The Other 98% recently posted an article “that claimed the surgeon general of the (United States) warned that drinking every time Trump lied during the first presidential debate could result in ‘acute alcohol poisoning.’” This was actually a satirical article from Buzzfeed falsely portrayed as factual by The Other 98%. There are countless other propagators of clickbait-oriented fake and biased news catering to the left. The articles cited above were all liked and shared thousands of times and could have potentially reached the eyes of millions of unknowing readers.

One could say that these examples are not comparable to the immensely popular and widely read Breitbart and Infowars publications, but this claim is unfounded. Breitbart has been advertised as a prime example of right wing fake news, and a former executive of the publication, Steve Bannon, now advises Trump. While these publications are often discussed and condemned by the mainstream media, their reach on Facebook is smaller than that of leftist Facebook pages. Breitbart has approximately 3.1 million likes and Infowars has about 672,000 likes on Facebook, far less than the 5.7 million likes Occupy Democrats maintains. While this is an imperfect metric to measure readership, this should at least prove that biased media sources on the left and right are similar in scope. But biased left wing media sources are not criticized the way biased right wing media sources are.

Right wing publications receive extensive coverage because they spread far more divisive and egregious lies. Brietbart, for instance, has a racially charged news section titled “Black Crime” and has continued to spread Trump’s false claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for “illegal voters.” Even Republicans have repudiated this claim of widespread voter fraud. Incredibly, Infowars is far worse than Breitbart, conspiratorially claiming that the government was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and faked the moon landing. It is true that the lies pushed by conservative outlets can be far more offensive, and ultimately dangerous, than the fake assertions of liberal outlets. But, while the fake news reaching Republicans is more extreme, progressives should still be vigilant about the fake news arising in their own circles and take care to avoid the corrosive impulses of their conservative counterparts.

As Democrats continue to critique the Trump administration and the biased right wing news sources that fueled his rise, it is important to recognize that there is a large division of Democrats who are reading similarly fake and divisive news. If Democrats want to claim a moral high ground, they should block and unlike Facebook pages, like those listed above, and be more introspective about the polarizing rhetoric that afflicts both sides of the political spectrum.

Owen Colby ’20 can be reached at owen_colby@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.