That was the all-caps heading on a blast email, to me and some others, from a Texan acquaintance. He’s pro-Trump and always saying Democrats are commie criminals. This one had the attached “quotes” from three leading Democratic senators, saying the Constitution is an obstacle to be disregarded. He called this flabbergasting, showing why Democrats opposed Kavanaugh.


The quotes looked obviously fake. Googling, I quickly traced them to “The Babylon Bee,” which appeared to be a crazy-Christian website. But then I saw at the bottom: “Your trusted source for Christian news satire.” Another article quoted Hillary Clinton saying her only crime was stealing America’s heart! And another reported she’s gotten a large cash advance for What Happened 2, a book to explain her 2020 election loss!

Well, maybe not as funny as The Onion. But my Texas friend was not the only one suckered. I also found this article (from “Punditfact”) reporting how the Babylon Bee satire went viral and spread across the internet as though the quotes were real.

What is really scary is how messed up America’s politics has become, when people can’t tell the difference not just between real and fake news, but between real and joke news. Babylon Bee was trying to make fun of those who believe extreme nonsense. It’s an irony that the joke was on Bablyon Bee, when its satire got recycled as reality. But it’s no joke when this sort of thing warps political ideas and influences votes.

A lot of people are so unsophisticated in their thinking, so lacking in civic education and understanding of our political landscape, and so ready to believe anything bad about the other side, that they didn’t question the authenticity of these preposterous quotes.

Creating what Babylon Bee did is child’s play. Photoshop enables photos to be manipulated. There’s even technology to make fake audio, with people seeming to say things they never said. How are we to navigate through this house-of-mirrors? You have to use your brain — primed with knowledge about the real world. That seems to be a problem for a lot of people, full of beliefs about a god in the sky, life after death, UFOs, ESP, and other such nonsense.

In the halcyon days when the internet was first flourishing, we imagined this would be great for making people better informed. Alas the opposite is happening; the web is poisoning our whole information pool. Incentives go the wrong way. People have found how easy it is to advance their agendas by simply spreading lies. Indeed, it’s even profitable. I recall a radio interview during the 2016 campaign with a guy who made up a phony report about pro-Hillary vote manipulation, tailored to be click-bait for Hillary-haters. And it got clicks galore — netting the guy tens of thousands in profit.

Worse yet when foreign enemies too are in the game. And, in fact, when the President of the United States himself actively promotes this destruction of rational and informed political discourse. How can this be overcome? Will we allow a blizzard of disinformation and lies to decide the next election?

Postscript: A Facebook commenter linked to this Washington Post article that makes what I wrote seem tame. Worth reading!!

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