From his very first day in office, President Trump has been engaged in all out war with the legitimate news media. Hardly a week has gone by without the president, the White House, or one of their minions at FOX News leveling a”Fake News” accusation at a major story that’s critical of Trump or some aspect of his presidency.
Meanwhile, actual fake news – the kind that’s completely fabricated with made-up sources and phony websites cited, yet written and published to fool readers into thinking events in it actually happened – continues unabated. The Alt-Right media and other outlets that peddle in conspiracy theories have become particularly adept at curating and disseminating fake news stories that attack enemies of President Trump, perceived or real.
It’s unclear what she did to draw the alt-right’s ire, but Sasha Obama, the youngest of President Obama’s two children, is the latest target of a calculated fake-news attack. A website calling itself “Defense USA” published a story on December 21st with the headline, “BREAKING: Sasha Obama Just Crashed Her Expensive New Car Into A Lake.”
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“When Barack Obama bought his daughter Sasha a used Bugatti Veyron for Christmas,” the article opens “she apparently loved the new car so much that she immediately took it for a spin. Unfortunately, that car didn’t last long.”
The Italian made Bugatti Veyron, for those not versed in the language of super cars for the über wealthy, has a sticker price of $1.5 million dollars. “According to police, Sasha Obama admits she was driving ‘more than 90 mph down Lake Hope Rd.’ where the speed limit is 35,” the article informs us. They even cite “Washington Sheriff Donald Harland” who was at the lake where Sasha Obama purportedly took the car for a swim.
But that’s not all. There were three other people in the car, and when police arrived on the scene, they noticed the “strong smell of marijuana.” Of course they did.
Sadly for those on social media who gleefully shared the story they believed confirmed the extravagant frivolity of the Obama family, the entire thing is made up. Everything. The incident, the names in it, even the links they provided, all invented or false.
This isn’t the first case of fake news getting traction on social media, and it won’t be the last. Russian trolls proved especially effective at spreading fake news during the 2016 presidential election.
But the most notorious and effective fake news in recent memory was the now-infamous “Pizzagate” story, which claimed that Hillary Clinton was involved in a pedophilia ring run out of a D.C. pizza joint. That story went viral inside the Alt-Right social media bubble, and conspiracy theory torch bearer Infowars dedicated much of its internet show to it, something host Alex Jones eventually apologized for publicly.
One Trump supporter was so enraged by the fake story that he drove from North Carolina to the nation’s capital with his military-style AR-15 assault rifle and a side arm to confront the employees of the pizza restaurant.
This fake news story about President Obama’s daughter doesn’t appear to have the same kind of potential to inspire a similarly violent reaction. But the more these phony, fabricated stories continue to appear and are legitimized by actively complicit social media users, the more legitimate news stories will be questioned and diluted into a mush of false equivalency.
But that, perhaps, is the whole point.