First, your edict: Everything online isn’t true; fact check first. Before you repost, fact check with Snopes.com or reputable news sites like NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, or even freaking Wikipedia (if it’s historical or scientific). If it’s in regard to an upcoming trial or bill, check out GovTrack.us and/or your state or local government’s websites for the exact text of the bill / subject of the case.
This NPR article has some outstanding advice regarding checking your sources, including: checking the domain/URL, look at the quotes in the article (more attributed quotes lend credence to the story), check the comments to see if people are calling bull, etc.
If you missed it, “pizzagate” can be summed up thusly:
- Self-identified “alt-right” people on Facebook and “alt-right” websites accuse a D.C. pizza spot of being the home base of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton. (I realize this is so ridiculous that we’ve actually run out of words, but this is seriously what happened.) NYTimes story.
- Pizza place and employees get threats and abusive messages. They report these to the police and FBI.
- Some schmuck walked into that same restaurant with an assault rifle, threatened people, and shot up the walls, to “self-investigate” the whole child abuse ring thing. (Again, so completely not making this up.) Washington Post.
How did “Pizzagate” go down? What’s the reality here?
A colleague of mine named Jennifer Bishop lives in Washington, D.C., and frequents that same pizza place. This is her take*:
I’ve been off of Facebook for a while because I honestly didn’t know where to even start. So I’ll start here. Every year on my son’s birthday, we go to a super cool restaurant in DC that has great pizza, craft beer, ping pong tables, local art, friendly people, and one of their desserts is a slice of birthday cake. There are always a bunch of families in there, and we usually see a few other children blowing out the candle on their own slices of cake.
Yesterday, a man walked into that restaurant with an AR-15 assault rifle. According to police, he shot at an employee, who managed to escape unharmed. He fired a few more shots into walls and the floor. Thankfully, everyone in the restaurant got out.
The gunman was there because of a false, deliberately fabricated story about child abuse that white supremacists were spreading on social media. He had read it, and he believed it, even though it was obviously fake. He went there to investigate and save the children. Yes, that’s right. In order to “save” children he believed were in danger, he shot off an assault rifle in a family restaurant where children were eating.
(How do I know the supporters of this hoax were white supremacists, by the way? Because I mentioned Comet Ping Pong on Twitter back in August. Some white supremacists dug that tweet up last week and started retweeting it and following me online. What tipped me off that these new followers were white supremacists? Mainly it was the swastikas in their profile pics.)
I had already started to feel scared a couple weeks ago, when I first read that the owner and employees of Comet were getting swamped with threatening messages. Not only that, but the harassers also grabbed photos of employees’ children that they found on Facebook and used them to create disturbing images to prove to their followers that children were being exploited. Yes, that’s right. They exploited children in order to convince people that someone else was exploiting children. I immediately searched through my Facebook photos, likes, and tags. Yup, I had checked in there 3 times over the past 3 years with photos of my smiling little boy blowing out candles and whacking ping pong balls. I freaked out, removed the photos. Facebook’s online help files reassured me that because my audience was friends only, nobody other than my friends could see and use the photos and check -ins.
I forgot to check Twitter, though. Some Nazis found that one tweet. I blocked and ignored those people, and the activity stopped after a couple of days. What can I say? Up is down, down is up, and nothing makes sense. Making sense isn’t even a thing anymore. I have no answers. I don’t know how to stop the fake news from spreading when political leaders are the ones encouraging it. It’s like shouting into a hurricane. I feel hopeless.
*Emphasis and paragraph marks are mine.
Well what can I do about it?
Educate yourselves. Educate your friends. fact check before you re-share. Rumors fly around the internet like they do around 6th grade lunchrooms. You’ll notice on this site, we do our best to provide at least one or two credible resources. When there’s a call to action, we do our best to verify the issue, the contact information, and so on. And so should you.