The fight against fake news just won’t end — but it seems like it’s going to be much harder to kill than we thought.
On Thursday, someone taped a 3-page article to the front of the newsroom’s refrigerator in the breakroom.
“If this doesn’t open your eyes,” the article declared, “nothing will.”
Coffee in hand, I leaned in, ready for my eyes to be opened.
What followed were 10 “facts” from The Los Angeles Times that had been highlighted red by the original poster.
Up first was this: “40% of all workers in LA County (10.2 million people) are working for cash; and not paying taxes. This is because they are predominantly illegal immigrants, working with a green card.”
Whipping out my phone, I Googled the claim and quickly found an LA Times article titled “Internet immigration hoax” from November 2007. It appeared that some of the newspaper’s readers had forwarded the hoax, which was circulating as an email at the time, to the editors who took time to fact check the “articles” claims.
“No article has appeared in The Times with this list,” the editors wrote. “And some of these ‘facts’ appear to have been misleadingly edited from articles that appeared in the LA Times as long as 20 years ago and are now being cited inappropriately.”
In 2009, after the email made another round, Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times reporter, attempted to verify all of the claims made in the hoax. What he found was a “stew made up for the most part of meaty exaggerations and spicy conjecture, mixed in with some giblets of truth.”
“Two of the ‘stats’ are the musings of a conservative op-ed writer. Another takes its information from a government “report” that is, in fact, a work of fiction,” he wrote. “The last two items on the list are the most accurate — but they reveal more about the prejudices and fears of the people passing the list along than they do about the supposed effect of ‘illegals.’”
Snopes.com, one of many online fact-checking websites, independently reviewed a similar hoax letter credited to the LA Times that made some overlapping claims. It found that the information used in the hoax article “appear to have been gleaned from a variety of sources and vary in accuracy.”
There is undoubtedly more misinformation readily available at our fingertips with the advent of the internet. BuzzFeed News found that the top 50 fake stories in 2018 generated 22 million total shares, reactions and comments on Facebook.
But remember that the internet, approached with the appropriate amount of skepticism, is also a great tool for inspecting information for yourself. So keep that in mind next time you see something come across your Facebook page, your email account, or your company’s community refrigerator.