Pope Francis recently likened the popularity of fake news to an abnormal fascination with feces. Yes, there’s a name for that fetish, coprophilia.
Millions of our fellow Americans, including at least one member of the Kentucky General Assembly, seem to be as happy to spread fake news on social media as pigs in, well, what the pope said.
This manure that masquerades as fact is tailored to appeal to certain political and personal biases. It’s satisfying, even pleasurable, to have our biases massaged and our beliefs reinforced. But a reliance on lies — why mince words? — is fatal to making sound decisions or providing useful leadership.
So it was real news when state Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, republished fake news stories on his Facebook page, as the Herald-Leader’s John Cheves reported earlier this week. Couch did not return calls from Cheves seeking comment. But by the end of the day, the lawmaker’s Facebook account had been changed to his wife’s name.
(This is not the famous quarterback from Hyden, also named Tim Couch.)
Fake-news items posted by Rep. Couch included the revelation that first lady Michelle Obama is a transgender man. Above a YouTube video titled “Obamas Kids Are Adopted!! I Found The Real Parents!!,” Couch wrote, “What do you think?”
We think the people of District 90 (Leslie, Clay and part of Laurel counties) deserve to be represented by someone who has better judgment than Couch.
Fake news has real consequences. Absurd reports that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was home to a child slavery ring run by Hillary Clinton inspired a North Carolina man to “self-investigate” by walking into the restaurant Sunday and fire an AR-15 rifle. The restaurant staff report receiving hundreds of death threats. No one has been hurt, but the 28-year-old father of two is jailed for his actions, while the purveyors of fake news will laugh all the way to the bank.
Both political and profit motives feed the proliferation of fake news. BuzzFeed traced some of the biggest fake news stories to young people in Veles, Macedonia where the money they’re making off Facebook clicks feels like a gold rush.
BuzzFeed also compared the top 20 fake news stories and the top 20 real news stories and discovered that in the three months before the election the fake news outperformed (got more shares, reactions, comments) than the real news on Facebook.
Even President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser has fallen for fake news, and Trump fueled the fake-news craze with his baseless insistence for years that Barack Obama is not a citizen and therefore should not be president.
Democracy requires informed citizens; being informed requires distinguishing fact from fiction. Couch, a lawmaker since 2003, chairs a couple of minor committees. Speaker-elect Jeff Hoover should relieve him of even those duties until Couch shows that he respects his constituents enough not to feed them lies.