"It may sound preposterous but it's true/ cause I heard it through the grapevine./ And Friend, I'm about to lose my mind/cause I heard it through the grapevine."
That song was written in 1966 by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records. The message was about hearsay. The 2017 version of the grapevine is the internet. According to the FBI and the CIA, fake news items that have appeared on the Internet in recent months seem to have been given credence by a significant portion of the population.
"Oh, no one believes that stuff." No? Well try the following.
"Hillary and Bill Clinton are running a child sex slave ring from Comet Ping Pong, a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C." -- Does that sound ridiculous? Well, a man from North Carolina showed up there and fired off his gun inside the popular family-friendly restaurant because he believed it. Earlier, two women came to investigate the tunnel under the restaurant reportedly used to hide the children. The restaurant has received numerous threats both by phone and by email.
"It may sound preposterous but it's true/cause I read it on the … internet."
"President Obama was born in Kenya so he couldn't be a legitimate president." -- That one has been repeated so often that it is now being used by the news media as an example of an untruth said often enough that it became believable. Is it true? No. It has been debunked over and over. Even Donald Trump said that it wasn't true in a speech back in November. Still, polls show that more than 30 percent of our population seems convinced. Folks, his mother was from Kansas.
"And friend, I'm about to lose my mind/cause I read it on the ...internet."
"The murder rate in the U.S. is the highest it has been in 45 years." -- In fact, it is near a 50-year low. This, despite the problems in Chicago.
"Britney Spears died." -- No, Britney is alive and well and planning her next concert.
"But the rumor must be true/cause I read it on the … internet."
The fake news items generally appear through Facebook or some other social media unit and go viral. One poll showed that more people believe the fake news posts than believe the newspapers.
Let's examine that last statement. Virtually anyone with a computer can put something on Facebook. There is no fact checking, no way to verify the relative truth of the statement, no consequences if the presentation is found to be libelous, self-serving or damaging to someone else. Newspapers, on the other hand, have both ethics and standards for their articles. Virtually every news article is required to have two sources in order to be presented as factual. And, if you feel harmed in any way, you can sue a newspaper for damages. You have no such remedy on Facebook.
The year 2016 was a difficult year for fake news. Candidates from both sides of the aisle were attacked with items that had no foundation in fact. Over and over statements were debunked. Awards were given for "One, two or three Pinocchios." And, if it was really bad they called it "Pants on fire." Still, if a portion of the voting public believed it, the fake news worked. And because it did, we can expect more of the same in future elections.
What do we do about such? We are long overdue for a governor on Facebook and other social media. Just as political candidates must take credit/blame for advertisements on radio and TV, (My name is ___________ and I approved this message) the same should apply to social media. No one should be able to get away with attacking a person's good name, causing a business to fail, or attempting to steal an election without paying a cost for the violation.
-- Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins' latest book, "Journey to Gettysburg," on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.