Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings
[URBAN NOTE] “Craig Silverman, the man who exposed the fake-news racket in 2016”
NOW Toronto‘s Jonathan Goldsbie examines how Toronto journalist Craig Silverman helped expose the existence of the phenomenon of fake news.
It’s generally irresponsible to attribute an election result to any one thing – but in a presidential race as close as the one the U.S. just had, any one thing could conceivably have made the difference.
In addition to especially alarming factors such as apparent Russian intervention and the resurgence of white nationalism, another theme has dominated the post-election narrative: the ascendant influence of fake news. All of a sudden, it has become difficult to consider American political dynamics without wading in to questions of epistemology – how do people know the things they know, and how do those beliefs shape not only their positions on issues but understandings of reality at large?
Unlike an election result, however, this shift in political discourse can be credited to a discrete cause: the work of Toronto-based BuzzFeed reporter Craig Silverman, whose investigations into the propagation and effects of accidental propaganda have rippled through the world’s most powerful institutions.
Late last month, for example, The New Yorker reported that U.S. President Barack Obama “talked almost obsessively” about Silverman’s pre-election story (co-authored with British researcher Lawrence Alexander) that exposed the fake-news racket centred in the small town of Veles, Macedonia, where teenagers discovered that tricking American Facebook users into clicking and sharing pro-Trump hoaxes could be a ridiculously profitable enterprise. Another of Silverman’s pieces, showing that fake election news had outperformed legitimate stories on Facebook, had such thorough penetration into the zeitgeist that Reuters reported even Pope Francis had characterized the spreading of fake news as a sin. (The Vatican’s English-language transcript of his remarks, translated from the original Spanish, however, leaves some doubt as to whether he was actually alluding to the same phenomenon.)
When BuzzFeed News named Silverman its media editor at the start of December – promoted from his former role as founding editor of BuzzFeed Canada – the site’s editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, told Fortune that fake news is the type of story that “Craig has been kind of preparing for for some time – maybe his whole life.”