Welcome back to Can’t Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
Naturally the biggest piece of news this week was the ongoing nuclear standoff between the US and North Korea. The danger was, and is, very real for both the US and North Korea. But it struck me that North Korea’s posture about Donald Trump’s threats—the “fire and fury” he promised to unleash—seem to start from the assumption that he’s full of shit.
North Korea’s August 9 statement by General Kim Rak-Gyom in response to Trump’s bluster included the following:
The U.S. president at a golf links again let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury,’ failing to grasp the on-going grave situation. This is extremely getting on the nerves of the infuriated Hwasong artillerymen of the KPA (Korean People’s Army). … Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him.
And then Kim Rak-Gyom said North Korea was thinking about attacking Guam. That may be a real plan, it may be a bluff. Let’s all hope that plan is as fake as the rest of the fake news that didn’t happen this week:
Friendship Ended AGAIN with Mudasir
In 2015, a guy in Pakistan named Asif Raza took to Facebook to deliver the bad news that his friendship with his best friend Mudasir had ended, and if anyone was wondering who he would be hanging out with from now on, it was going to be this other dude named Salman.
Asif issued this breathtakingly blunt life status update via a colorful work of art now known the world over as “Friendship Ended with Mudasir.” Overnight, Asif’s masterpiece went viral. A month later, when Asif and Mudasir buried the hatchet, and Asif created a second equally colorful graphic announcing “Friendship Regain with Mudasir,” Asif went from viral sensation to internet legend.
Almost two years later on August 5, the internet received a shocking revelation: According to a Twitter account called @haarleyquin, which seems to have made a reputation for itself by churning out vaguely Buzzfeed-flavored fluff, the Asif and Mudasir saga “now has three parts.” An apparent third picture features Asif and Salman and declares, “Mudasir u can cry alone now” at the bottom. Had it really all ended in tears?
No, it hadn’t. Motherboard Meme Investigator Jordan Pearson, a man I’m proud to call my colleague, was on the case, and was able to debunk the hideous rumor. It turns out Asif had made that graphic in the dark time between the first two images back in 2015, and it was recycled last week, although it would seem that someone who wasn’t Asif added the words “Mudasir u can cry alone now” to this image.
But let’s not dwell on whether this was a hoax or a mistake. The point is, friendship wins! We can all rest assured, somewhere in Pakistan, Asif, Salman, and Mudasir are all, as Asif told Motherboard last year, “running here and there and eating food together. And enjoying the rain together.” That sounds nice.
The New York Times blew the lid off a Trump climate cover-up
This one gets a little complicated, but it’s important:
On Tuesday, the New York Times published a front-page story stating that scientists involved in the creation of a joint climate change report, the work of 13 separate federal agencies, say they “fear the Trump administration could change or suppress” the document. “A copy of it was obtained by the New York Times,” the article said.
Along with the article, the newspaper published a leaked draft of the entire report. The idea that it might be suppressed in theory is that the report contradicts President Trump’s claims that climate change is a hoax—claims already known to be false—and could therefore embarrass him.
Scientists involved with the report may indeed fear that the Trump administration could tamper with it, but the story was still questionably framed for two reasons. First of all, since Trump still has until his August 18 deadline to review the document, the White House hasn’t covered anything up, or apparently tried to alter the report’s findings. Second of all, by saying a draft had been “obtained by the New York Times,” the paper was essentially saying it had been leaked to them, which was misleading.
That version of the report had actually been available at Archive.org since January. The Times has since corrected the record, and did later publish one different version that had truly been leaked. But as Erik Wemple pointed out in the Washington Post, the initial misleading claim negated the entire reason for the Times to run a story at all. (And if you want to read the reports, here are the two versions of the report obtained by the Times for reference). In case you’re wondering, the report keeps being revised, and is subject to tons and tons of review because as was pointed out by Eric Holthaus of Grist, it’s “one of the most comprehensive climate science reports in history.”
And that’s what’s makes the Times’ scoop-free story so frustrating. This is science at its best, because we can see from the multiple drafts that the federal government is showing its work in. That includes faithfully stripping away overly scary conclusions if any of them aren’t justified—which is all a climate skeptic can reasonably demand. And yet the report is still extremely dire, and cause for urgent action to stop the Earth’s dangerous man-made warming.
It’s not quite fake news in the sense that it was deliberately false, of course. But it’s an error that may have some news consumers confused, especially if they read the initial article and didn’t pay attention to the ensuing corrections and controversy. The Times runs many vital stories on climate change and the governmental agencies that are supposed to be fighting it, but unfairly or not, it’s the screw-ups that get noticed.
There was an active shooter situation at the EPA
On Wednesday, a rumor circulated for a few hours that there was a shooting going on at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The tweet above from apparent eyewitness Alexis Fabbri, was amplified by moderately prominent president disliker Jordan Uhl, and the supposed incident briefly had some social media heat, even though one of the two cops in Fabbri’s video looks less like he’s rushing to stop a mass murderer and more like he’s trying to be in a photo to go next to Webster’s definition of “moseying.” (Sadly for him, Webster’s doesn’t even use photos.)
Thirty minutes later, the EPA tweeted that reports of gunshots had been false, and everything was fine, and I’d say it’s safe to call this less than a footnote in the history of fake news. But it was also a great demonstration of how quickly a rumor can ferment into poison.
Internet randos naturally assumed the non-shooting was a politically-motivated act of violence. But none had a more hideous hot take than a facile right-wing T-shirt generator account called @JoeHerren. The moment of an active shooter situation at the EPA, Joe figured, was a good moment to remind the world that “Islam is of the devil,” via a T-shirt available at his online store. What a cool Twitter account!
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