Standards have fallen so low that, whether of right or left, trolls take advantage of gullible and ignorant people on Facebook each day. Eli Saslow reports how a liberal troll tricks impressionable conservatives. The people tricking, and the people being tricked, are evidence of (respectively) ethical or educational decline. First the unethical tricksters:
He [forty-something Christopher Blair] had launched his new website on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign as a practical joke among friends — a political satire site started by Blair and a few other liberal bloggers who wanted to make fun of what they considered to be extremist ideas spreading throughout the far right. In the last two years on his page, America’s Last Line of Defense, Blair had made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former president Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. “Share if you’re outraged!” his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked “like” and then “share,” most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair’s page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55.
“Nothing on this page is real,” read one of the 14 disclaimers on Blair’s site, and yet in the America of 2018 his stories had become real, reinforcing people’s biases, spreading onto Macedonian and Russian fake news sites, amassing an audience of as many 6 million visitors each month who thought his posts were factual. What Blair had first conceived of as an elaborate joke was beginning to reveal something darker. “No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back,” Blair once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page. “Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they’re being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?”
On her [septuagenarian Shirley Chapian’s] computer the attack against America was urgent and unrelenting. Liberals were restricting free speech. Immigrants were storming the border and casting illegal votes. Politicians were scheming to take away everyone’s guns. “The second you stop paying attention, there’s another travesty underway in this country,” Chapian once wrote, in her own Facebook post, so she had decided to always pay attention, sometimes scrolling and sharing for hours at a time.
“BREAKING: Democrat mega-donor accused of sexual assault!!!”
“Is Michelle Obama really dating Bruce Springsteen?”
“Iowa Farmer Claims Bill Clinton had Sex with Cow during ‘Cocaine Party.’ ”
“I’m not a conspiracy-theory-type person, but . . .” she wrote, before sharing a link to an unsourced story suggesting that Democratic donor George Soros had been a committed Nazi, or that a Parkland shooting survivor was actually a paid actor.
The arrogance of trolls and the ignorance of readers brought us here. Weak reporting and too-cozy relationships brought us here. Cheap wins over valuable accomplishments brought us here.
We’ve a long way back.