Fake news: From pit bulls to a fake news ban, four things that didn’t happen this week

Here’s a roundup of news this week that you may not have seen, and didn’t happen in the real world — though somebody would like you to believe otherwise.

    桑拿会所 has threatened to cut off Donald Trump’s account.

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    The starting point for this was a story in Slate. (There’s a very similar one in Quartz.) Reporter Will Oremus asked 桑拿会所 if it might ever ban U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, in theory, and the company responded with an e-mail in which a spokesperson cut-and-pasted the relevant part of the network’s user agreement, which prohibits “violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse.” Does this apply to Trump, Oremus asked? “The 桑拿会所 Rules apply to all accounts,” the company replied.

    Which is kind of what you would expect them to say.

    It was all that Alex Jones needed, though. InfoWars promptly published a video titled ‘桑拿会所 Threatens To Kill Trump’s Account.’ 

    “You cannot make up the magnitude of this!,” Jones warned his listeners. “Kicking the president off — that’s what an enemy government would do, cutting off somebody’s communications. This is getting crazier and crazier by the minute. This is total authoritarianism. They tried to steal the election and failed, and now they’re in full panic mode, folks. They’re going to get their a#% kicked politically, just by showing everybody how evil they are, how ruthless they are, how anti-freedom they are. God Almighty, it’s next-level. If they can ban his free speech, they can ban everybody’s!”

    READ MORE: Fake news: Four things that didn’t happen this week

    2) As he prepares to leave office, outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has banned fake news outlets

    This one is kind of meta, having been published with lots of corroborative detail on the Boston Tribune fake news outlet.

    The story begins:

    “In wake of the controversial 2016 presidential election, President Obama has signed what may be one of his final executive orders. On Monday morning, President Obama signed Executive Order 13749 banning all fake news websites and ensuring penalties ranging from fines/fees to criminal prosecution for those that own and maintain such websites.”

    The editing is shaky, but some attention to detail went into this: the link goes to the page where presidential executive orders are actually published, where you will not find Executive Order 13749, because it never existed. It sounds like it could, though — Executive Order 13738 does. If you were already likely to believe the story, it might withstand at least a basic attempt at fact-checking.

    Obama banning things (in a way that is, in no particular order, impractical, impossible, unlikely or unconstitutional, but would be outrageous if they had actually happened) is a fake news staple. At various times, the outgoing president has been accused of banning the U.S. national anthem (Executive Order 14302), the Pledge of Allegiance (an alternate-reality Executive Order 13738), the possession of gold and air conditioning.

    The Boston Tribune, like the Baltimore Gazette and the Denver Guardian, are fake news sites that are named to imply a bit of legacy media authority. Some thought seems to go into their names — there was a real newspaper, the South Boston Tribune, which went under in 2012 after decades of operation, and a real Baltimore Gazette existed in the Civil War era. (The Baltimore Gazette of 2016 describes itself as “Baltimore’s oldest news source and one of the longest running daily newspapers published in the United States,” ignoring a 140-year gap in operations.)

    This kind of fake news site goes to a surprising level of effort to give the impression online of being a real newspaper, complete with obituaries, horoscopes and the illusion of an advertising department, The Denver Guardian also has a physical address, but the Denver Post (a real newspaper investigating its ghostly rival) found that it was a vacant lot.

    (NPR traced ownership of many of these sites to a man named Jason Coler, who lives in suburban Los Angeles.)

    WATCH: There’s new criticism for Facebook and its handling of so-called “fake news” as the company promises a renewed effort to weed out misinformation on the site. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is laying-out a plan to fight inaccurate news stories from making it to your Facebook feed.

    3) NATO is in a “declared war with Russia”.

    How did we miss that? You may well ask.

    Turkish troops entered Syria this week to keep ISIS forces well back from their border, among other things. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan also explained they were in Syria “to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror.”

    In any case, Assad is a Russian ally, and on Thursday Erdogan explained himself in a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which may or may not have smoothed things over. 

    “Let me explain what this really means,” Jones of InfoWars announced , speaking of Erdogan’s earlier comments. “It means that war in the Middle East between NATO and Russia has been declared by NATO. He’s a NATO member, there’s a defence pact between all the NATO nations that if one nation attacks they will all back that nation.”

    Therefore, apparently, the United States, Canada and a basket of other countries are at war with Syria — we just haven’t noticed it yet, and nobody’s told us.

    This just isn’t what the North Atlantic Treaty says, though. Article 5, which does commit member states to go to war in each other’s defence, only applies if they’re attacked. (It also only applies in Europe or North America, and all of Syria and nearly all of Turkey is in Asia.)

    If a member state invades another country, that’s their problem. For example, Canada might have sent troops to fight alongside the U.S. in Vietnam or Iraq, but chose not to.

    WATCH: Two of the world’s biggest social media companies, Google and Facebook, are facing criticism over fake news sites after the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

    4) 42 U.S. states have agreed to ban pit bulls 

    You read it first at the Boston Tribune:

    “After nearly 14-months of discussion – representatives from 42 states have agreed to implement a mandatory statewide breed specific legislation banning residents from owning any pit-bull type breed of dogs.”

    The story has lots of detail from a delighted activist that called the move “an enormous victory for everyone,” names, statistics, careful attribution of quotes to a nonexistent ABC News reporter’s interviews, an implementation date (March 3, 2017), and a screenshot of a Facebook statement, complete with logo, from a group that seems to not exist on Facebook. The list of 42 states even adds up to 42 (yes, we checked).

    As far as Global News can tell, the thing is complete hooey, from start to finish.

    Once you start asking questions, there are more and more:

    Where did the agreement take place? (Nowhere in particular.)Who in a U.S. state can commit in advance to passing a law? (Nobody — someone, a governor perhaps, could commit to introducing one.)So they couldn’t commit to having it passed by a given date? (That’s right.)Why would they need a common implementation date, anyway? (No reason.)Where does that link to an interview on ABC go to? (The main page for the network.)What if I start Googling people mentioned in the story? (Give it a try.)

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