Katha Pollitt is an exception to the rule that social media is useless as a tool for real information. (Yes, I know it’s possible to be on Twitter and not really know the depth of people’s stupidity, but I’m referring to the total lack of factual information available online.) Pollitt was so shocked and horrified at the latest mass shooting in Florida, at Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day of last year, that she published a letter called “Been to a School Shooting? The Top 20 Myths” on the cover of The Nation, an incredible series of 30-plus contradictory ideas floating around a grim disaster. A year after the shooting, she follows up by creating a subreddit called SnopesVeryReal.
I’ve posted a link to it to my Facebook page, and I am being attacked for reading it on there because it’s violent. Pretty for a man with a creepy tendency to throw things at you, anyway. He begins with an appropriately paranoid message, when Snopes, an ABC affiliate that’s dedicated to debunking fake news, unveiled “The JJcut,” a graphic revealing allegedly real and real-looking replicas of Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, and other Star Wars characters shooting guns and grabbing BB guns in his or her various locations. Photos of all the dead Disney characters. Each one had the word J in his or her name—that helps, too—but as the article notes, “J.J.” is pronounced like “Lisa” and, well, not really recognized by anyone.
And then there’s the map of all the Disney locations around the country and the World, each accompanied by a list of “Suitors” (yes, that’s what they’re called) who may or may not have gone out for a Walt Disney World trip, including items like the Cloisters Museum in DC. Curious, I scroll through the photo and decide a visit would be in order. The director of Cloisters museum, Ruth Hessler Cuoco, will probably be delighted with all the press it’s going to get.
I thought I’d be sick of this kind of thing in a few years—now—because so much new information arrives online and is regurgitated and re-referenced by everyone. Before the toolstagrams and Snapchat-mems of public records, I wasn’t so inclined to think that good, timely news would eventually supplant all this horrible crap in the moment. Yet here we are, another mass shooting, a few more tragic clowns passing themselves off as students of Parkland, and people are tweeting about how a fakeist sketch is making the rounds on Facebook.
The tone is despondent and unbearable, a series of panics turning one twisted series of facts into a Tragedy-of-the-Century cacophony. The first thing that comes to mind is Another Level. Here is the road to Hell, one hop over “Teenager in Korea Falls to His Death by Police Bullet.” Here are 4,209 more, each one a different horrifying thing you read on a monthly basis. It’s all terrible, but no more terrible than anything you could have come up with on your own.
And yet each utterance, confirmed by context, shows where the toxic, predictable loop can lead a susceptible mind. Though such unsubstantiated allegations may not be credible, there’s a horrible sense of helplessness, something dark and desperate about the search for truth. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rumor or a mythical conspiracy or whatever—there’s always going to be more to deny.
Which brings us to President Donald Trump. Sure, this morning he tweeted, “Sitting around waiting for the fake news to do their job. When will it end? There is only one way to stop the ‘fake news,’ and that is with a massive Tax Cut and Reform bill,” which his people are working feverishly to pass before the January 31 government shutdown deadline. (Not a reporter who was tweeting before she was asked to leave Trump’s holiday party got this story, though a producer from the real-time Nancy Grace network likely was.) He does believe that a massive tax cut will end the fake news, the Real News Media, and ultimately the world.
But, of course, that’s not the half of it. The whole thing is soaked in fake news and misinformation and represents The New World Order’s attempt to take over the world in which we live. When the people are left totally vulnerable