It’s sad how fake news circulates so swiftly
Published 5:57 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
Whew! That was close.
This morning on my Facebook newsfeed, I read an article attributed to economist, writer, former game show host, and sometimes actor Ben Stein, best known, at least to my generation, for the line “Bueller, Bueller” when Ferris Bueller clearly was not there.
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In his commentary Stein confesses that he doesn’t mind when people say, “Merry Christmas” to him even though he’s Jewish and doesn’t celebrate the holiday. Stein reportedly goes on to criticize the White House for referring to the National Christmas Tree as a Holiday Tree and follows by saying that natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, are our godless society’s just deserts.
I was incensed and immediately started banging out a response column. Somewhere around, “And another thing, Mister!”
This doesn’t really sound like Ben Stein, I thought. Something was rotten in Internettown.
It took me about 10 seconds on Snopes.com, the popular rumor busting website, to find out that what I was reading was cobbled together from stories appearing between the years 2005-2011, and it was almost all inaccurate. The only truthful point was that on Dec. 18, 2005, in a televised segment for the CBS “Sunday Morning” program, Mr. Stein did say that he doesn’t feel “threatened” or “discriminated against” when people toss a “Merry Christmas” his way.
The rest was, if you’ll pardon my language, bullpucky.
This was not my first flirtation with online naiveté. A couple of weeks ago, I read and shared a story claiming that Rep. Michele Bachmann called for a ban on Halloween. Supposedly she didn’t want children “sucking on Satan’s candy sacks and thinking liberal thoughts.” I really wanted that one to be true because it was hilarious, but, no, it was tomfoolery back for another visit.
Just this second, as I write this — friends, you’re experiencing my gullibility in real time! — I received a message that a story I read and commented on alleging that the “Fox and Friends” morning show anchors disparaged the victims in the Penn State abuse scandal, saying they were only looking for a payday and that the real tragedy was the damage done to the football team was false.
What is going on? I mean besides the fact that apparently I’ll believe anything.
More and more lately I’ve noticed that I am supporting the invention of hysterical, polarizing extremists by spreading their half-truths and deception so long as they agree with my agenda and malign the people I don’t like very much. That’s not a very cool thing to realize about myself.
These so-called news stories are often filed under the safety net of satire, but they’re not satire at all.
Satire is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Satire is most of what Jon Stewart does on “The Daily Show.” Satire takes reality, stretches it like taffy, careful not to break it into lies and in doing so confronts hidden truths that we’d really rather stay hidden. Satire enlightens and teaches. What we’re calling satire these days falls squarely into fiction and just short of slander. But who cares as long as it slanders all the right people?
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “History is a set of lies people have agreed upon.” He would have had a ball with Facebook. Perhaps his status would have read, “Never have so many minds been so malleable. Never was there more fertile ground for propaganda.”
His Facebook activity might have gone something like this: Napoleon is now in a relationship with Josephine. It’s complicated. Napoleon just added 40 pictures to the album Waterloo. (Sad face icon.)
Is anybody doing real time Facebook profiles for historical figures? It’s fun. I could do it all day.
Anyway, the point is, I feel guilty for being a little Napoleon and perpetuating this liar-liar-pants-on-fire trend that has millions of people expending valuable energy fighting one another over misinformation.
From now on when I’m all fired up over something I read online, especially on Facebook, I’m going to stop, drop and research before I share it or peel off an angry response. No more circulating passive aggressive stories that don’t directly pick a fight with anyone, they just send a message that says, hey, your guy spouted this garbage, not mine.
No more. And that’s all I have to say about that. Well, except for one last thing, Merry Christmas, Ben Stein.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at email@example.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.