These days, Americans are divided—and nothing reflects our division more than the rise of “fake news.” Whether it’s generated by Russian trolls or American ones, the spread of false news stories is sowing distrust, empowering the fringes, and poisoning our democracy. This week, we’re journeying into the chaos. In “The Things People Say,” Elizabeth Kolbert chronicles the creation of the birther movement and explores how disinformation goes viral; in “Trolls for Trump,” Andrew Marantz profiles Mike Cernovich, the “meme mastermind of the alt-right.” Dana Priest provides an overview of European anti-fake-news efforts in “Lessons from Europe’s Fight Against Russian Disinformation,” and Peter Hessler discovers how the President’s contempt for the media is rubbing off on ordinary people in “Follow the Leader.” Emily Nussbaum examines how humor was used to cloak disturbing elements of racism and xenophobia during the 2016 campaign season in “Tragedy Plus Time.” Finally, in “The Fake-News Fallacy,” Adrian Chen looks back to a previous era of media disruption—the advent of radio—to find out how we’ve dealt with fake news in the past. Together, these pieces provide a map to our fractured media moment.
“The Fake-News Fallacy”
“Stanching the torrent of fake news on the Internet has become a trial by which the digital giants can prove their commitment to democracy. The effort has reignited a debate over the role of mass communication that goes back to the early days of radio.” Read more.
“The Things People Say”
“There is virtually no opinion an individual can hold that is so outlandish that he will not find other believers on the Web.” Read more.
“Lessons from Europe’s Fight Against Russian Disinformation”
“In every nation on Earth where the government is moving from a participatory to an authoritarian form of rule, seizing the information pipeline is a prerequisite for staying in power.” Read more.
“Follow the Leader”
“The lack of legislative accomplishment seems only to make supporters take more satisfaction in Trump’s behavior. And thus far the President’s tone, rather than his policies, has had the greatest impact on Grand Junction, Colorado.” Read more.
“Trolls for Trump”
“The blogger Mike Cernovich realized that a meme could reach more people than a newspaper story, without having to cross an editor’s desk. With savvy framing, an alternative voice could seem as authoritative as the nightly news.” Read more.
“Tragedy Plus Time”
“By the campaign’s final days, the race felt driven less by policy disputes than by an ugly war of disinformation, one played for laughs. How do you fight an enemy who’s just kidding?” Read more.