Friday, March 10, 2017

"Fake news" comes from an official source

"Fake News"? It's a real phenomenon — inaccurate, misleading, outlandish, incredible, mendacious — but out there.

Where does it come from? Turns out it's not just from frustrated, anti-social millennials sitting in their parents' basement in their pajamas or entrepreneurial Macedonian techies making a lucrative living by dreaming up wildly enticing stories that lure people to click on their social media posts. Fake news also comes from ... the majority leader of the N.C. Senate.

Phil Berger, the majority leader, has posted grossly exaggerated and mean-spirited headlines on his official Facebook page with links to actual news stories from legitimate news sources, including the News & Observer. Caught and challenged about his practice, which violated Facebook's terms of use policy, Berger was unrepentant, accusing Facebook of misinterpreting its own terms of use.

Any astute user of social media should recognize Berger's wildly accusatory headlines as unprofessional and beneath the standards of the news organizations his posts link to. But Berger knows that many people won't click on the link or read the actual headline, much less read the straight-news story without Berger's partisan twist to it. He knows the headline does its damage, accusing Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, of all sorts of malfeasance.

What is most disturbing to the legitimate news sources, such as the N&O, the Charlotte Observer and WBTV, is that they are listed as the source, the link, below the misleading headline. Experienced Facebook users will often check the source before clicking on a link. Berger's fake headline makes it look as though honest-to-goodness real news organizations (the "mainstream media") have the goods on the Democrats. Berger's fake news make its Democratic target and the news media both look bad.

For Berger, that's a perfect combination, a two-for-one score. No wonder he sees nothing wrong with fake news.

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