From zero to viral in a flash, widespread fake news emerges from almost nowhere as if by spontaneous generation and propagates throughout social media at light speed. For most of us, fake news, like the type that proliferated our Facebook pages during the last election, is a relatively new phenomenon.
But where does fake news come from? How does it progress from conception to viral? Award-winning New York Time’s columnist, Scott Shane, examines a recent notorious example of fake news,
Cameron Harris’ “Fraudulent Ballots for Hillary Clinton Found in Ohio Warehouse,” from inception to dissemination, in his January 2017 article, “From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece.” In it, he expertly introduces us to the life cycle of this fake news article (and indirectly many more), as if it were the pinnacle creation of one fake news’ more prolific budding artists.
Prolific in his own right, Scott Shane has worked for The New York Times, as a Washington Bureau reporter since 2004. He writes about a variety of topics but primality on national security related issues. He was recently awarded the Lionel Gelber Prize, for his book, “Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President and the Rise of the Drone.” Prior to the New York Times, Shane worked as a reporter for
The Baltimore Sun starting in 1983 and was a correspondent in Moscow 1988 – 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. His book about the demise of the USSR, “Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union,” was lauded by the Los Angeles Times as one of the fundamental works on the subject.
In this article, Shane exposes us to the nature and lifespan of fake news by taking us through the life cycle of Harris’ famously successful fake news meme. Setting the stage for his story using a callback to Trump’s August 2016 Columbus Ohio campaign speech (where the candidate alludes to possible Hillary-initiated election fraud), Shane starts at this Trump inspired spark that gave birth to Harris’ idea for the fake news meme. Shane then leads us down the path Harris used to conceptualize, produce, publish and distribute this (and most of his) fake news. Beginning with the spark and the fake news headline it inspired, to the media material needed to produce the fake posting, the website that hosted it and the Facebook accounts that helped share and spread it, Shane explains to us to the methods and tools Harris (and most likely many fake news purveyors) used to create his masterpiece.
With every production phase he discusses, Shane shows what Harris does and how the effects of his methods, whether intentional or fortuitous, elevate this particular fake story to a masterpiece level.
Shane’s familiarity and insight of the methods Harris used to produce his story originate from Harris himself. He contacted Harris and spoke with him about his fake article. Shane’s recollection and analysis of the conversation provide us with the detail that only a meme creator, such as Harris, can provide. We get to see things as Harris saw them and discover the fake news production process straight from the horse’s mouth, so to say. An interesting perspective indeed.
Throughout this work, Shane takes an interesting direction and allows Harris to explain himself and his role in this controversial practice. Most would think fake news is generally viewed as a bad thing and the people who traffic in it might typically be presented in a negative light. Yet, Shane offers no obvious criticism or praise of Harris. He allows Harris to define himself and tell his own narrative to us. This allows us to read between the lines of Harris’ conversation and gain a more in-depth understanding of him and his actions. It’s this perspective of Harris and his role as an unexpected human face to this less popular side of the fake news phenomenon that allows us to concentrate less on him and more on the life of his Hillary meme
Harris is rather candid with Shane and that permits Shane to give us a unique perspective of the fake news phenomenon, specifically from the “perpetrator’s” point of view. Yet, as he is doing this he is also offering us a broader glimpse into the relative ease with which almost anyone can create and disseminate fake news for whatever purpose or gain they hope to achieve. Maybe with this informative and excellent perspective, we can understand and recognize fake items more readily and react to them more calmly and intelligently. Or perhaps, on the other hand, we can all start making our own fake news stories now.