Over the weekend, the Washington Post featured Christopher Blair, a 46-year-old self-described liberal who launched a satire Facebook page during the 2016 election season. His intention was to poke fun at the ridiculous lengths the Right goes in believing patently false stories. Yet something unexpected happened along the way: many of his page’s 219k fans believe what he writes, even though he explicitly states that his stories and memes are farcical. The Post continues,
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,” writes Blair fourteen times across his site, yet in an age of false misinformation, many don’t take the time to read the small (or even extra-large) print. Personally, I’ve shared The Borowitz Report on a number of occasions on social media, and even after the New Yorker started listing it as satire—”Not the News”—people still replied to my posts as if they were serious.
Humor is one thing, but we’ve gone well beyond satire in our political leanings. A few weeks ago, I talked with Christopher Young, co-founder of Proof, a company attempting to combat false information online. Based on “the wisdom of the crowds,” Proof is hoping that citizens care enough about a more truthful internet to partake in cleaning it up. An alpha version is launching next month and the company is seeking participants to help test the network and operability of the platform as well as offering investment opportunities for those seeking to partake in a “new type of editorial system.” I’ve already signed up to be an alpha tester; having worked in journalism since 1993, the value of a free and honest press cannot be understated.
Of course, starting a Facebook page for kicks (or a conspiracy website for ad dollars) doesn’t play by the traditional rules of engagement. As misinformation evolves, honesty must follow suit.