Category Archives: Journalism

From satire to hoax to incitement: Ebola on the Web

#IAmALiberianNotAVirusIn a post last week, I opened up the subject of differentiating satire from hoax in the era of Facebook shares and careless posts seen by millions.

I cited a fabricated story about Michele Bachmann that fooled many of the most popular progressive sites: a combination of weak (or outright deceptive) satire and a lack of due diligence that’s repeated again and again, to the detriment of our intellectual integrity.

Pretty sleazy stuff, but we have to descend another several circles of Hell to gaze on some of the intentionally false content about the Ebola virus that’s made the rounds the past week.

If you accept the notion that these pieces are somehow satire, the objects are immigrants from the West African nation of Liberia. (Liberia is one of the countries most affected by the disease.)

If you consider these stories provocation, Liberians are potential victims.

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The myth of false equivalency

scalesThis is the story of my first and last brush with campus activism during my college career. It’s been decades, so some names may be slightly askew — but the sequence of events is still crystal clear.

I crossed paths with 1960s counterculture often as a tot, and I’d always romanticized the activism it inspired. So when I entered college, I was eager to man the ramparts for social justice.

A cause of the moment was registration for the draft, which had been reinstated in 1980 by Jimmy Carter. Like any aspiring young progressive I knew, I was opposed to registration as a half-step away from conscription. (I’ve long since tempered that opinion; I now believe that conscription is a potent tool to make the powerful think twice about committing their own children to war.)

At the time, however, it seemed like a righteous cause to start my career as a student activist. So I was excited to attend the first meeting of a group called (IIRC) Students Against Registration and the Draft and attended by about 30 of the most visible leftist students on the UCSD campus.

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Satire or hoax? Let’s draw a line

Michele BachmannMy last post here took a first pass at what’s so wrong with so many of the online stories posing as news. In last week’s episode, I focused on the vanishing practice of calling people to verify or debunk the supposed meaning of the event described.

This week, I’d like to consider the intentional creation of falsehoods for dissemination online. Many assertions that readers share widely as fact turn out to be distorted or made up entirely.

Are the authors actually trying to deceive readers? Or do they intend to make points through satire, only to have their words taken at face value when the context is lost in transit?

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