Recently a North Carolina man named Edgar M. Welch read that a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant was harbouring children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by U.S. politicians John Podesta and Hillary Clinton.
Enraged, the 28-year-old father of two drove to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria to investigate the alleged child-sex conspiracy theory for himself. He arrived there heavily armed and fired a shot from his rifle. The police arrested him and charged him with assault with a dangerous weapon. Nobody was hurt.
Welch had been duped by a fake news story that had spread across the web like mozzarella on a pizza pie. The stories appeared on Facebook and Twitter. They were soon exposed as false by a number of news outlets but they’ve continued to circulate online despite having zero evidence to support them.
Real news articles trying to debunk the fakes were themselves victimized by the madness. Shortly after Welch was charged, claims surfaced that he was an actor hired by the child-abuse ring to throw everybody off.
This goes to show you that the online world is similar to the world of magic and myth popularized by Columbian author Gabriel Márquez, the pioneer of a literary style called magical realism.
In Márquez’s books, people interact with ghosts, a town is plagued by a great forgetfulness which forces its residents to write everything down on post-it notes to get by, a woman ascends into the sky because she’s too beautiful and so on.
In other words, magical realism is beautiful but it isn’t real. It’s hard to say how much fake news there is on the web but stories like the one claiming Donald Trump won the popular vote, are damaging the credibility of both traditional news people and hardworking conspiracy theorists.
In the olden days being a contrarian was a noble profession. There was a role for these out-of-the-box thinkers. Today some have crossed over from healthy scepticism into fantasy.
The web is too full of magical realists bouncing ideas off one another until critical mass is reached and one unlucky guy actually walks into a pizza shop looking for child-molesters to kill.
On the bright side, all the fake news on social media will ensure reporters and news outlets will have employment for years to come as Facebook checkers. Welch is a Pizza-gate victim and another is James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong who continues to be pestered by folks who can’t distinguish fantasy from reality.
“I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away,” he said in a statement.