Fake news played a hand in some of 2016’s most pivotal events—going so far as to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. The Oxford Dictionaries even made post-truth its 2016 Word of the Year.
So in other words…flat out lies.
After the recent emergence of an insane alt-right conspiracy positing that Hillary Clinton and campaign chair John Podesta were running a pedophilia ring from the basement of a DC pizza parlor (which does not even have a basement), a North Carolina man took it upon himself to “self-investigate” by entering the pizza shop with a rifle, pointing it at an employee, and firing a shot. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the “Pizzagate” incident brought to light just how dangerous post-truth politics can be.
Clearly, flinging around stories, “facts,” and outright conspiracies untethered from reality holds the potential to erode public understanding of some of society’s most pressing issues.
Women across America have already become victims of post-truth nonsense. Anyone who watched the final presidential debate remembers Donald Trump’s jaw dropping “rip the baby out of the womb” at nine months gestation comment. Post-election, we’ve seen a striking increase in abortion restrictions. Many of the architects of these restrictive proposals proudly state that they were inspired by Trump’s anti-choice rhetoric. Here are a few of the most dangerous examples:
- In November, Texas passed a law requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated after an abortion for no medical reason whatsoever, but rather out of “respect for the sanctity of life.” Fortunately, a judge issued a temporary restraining order before it went into effect on December 19.
- Just last month, Ohio state legislatures passed a bill to make abortion illegal after 6 weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. Using Donald Trump’s anti-choice fallacies, these Ohio legislators are feeding into the post-truth arena and deepening its damage. Although the bill was not signed by Ohio Governor Kasich, a 20-week abortion ban, just as harmful, was approved instead.
- The new version of the booklet (A Woman’s Right to Know) that Texas requires all women to read before having an abortion links the procedure to breast cancer—a claim that has been unanimously debunked by doctors.
- As Trump fills his Cabinet and staffs his White House, the public continues to face fallacies and threats to reproductive healthcare. Katy Talento, a new pick for Trump’s healthcare staff suggested that birth control can lead to infertility and miscarriages. This is not only wildly untrue, but harmful to the progress made by medical researchers around the world.
When they enter political debate, such lies no longer exist in a vacuum—they do real harm to real people.
Case in point, environmental issues have also already been touched by post-truthers, fueled by Trump’s baseless rhetoric asserting that climate change is a “hoax.”
We know, factually, that climate change is threatening the very future of human civilization, yet the incoming administration stands by its plans to increase the use of industrial oil and gas over the next four years. Post-truth “news” sites have appealed to these terrible policy suggestions, twisting meteorology and the words of climate scientists to support their own claims that climate change is “science fiction.”
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the EPA, has continued to prove his disbelief in the reality of climate change and its real impact on the planet. During his January 18th confirmation hearing, Pruitt denied that climate change is due to human activity, even though this a widely-accepted scientific fact. Maybe it’s his close ties to big oil, or his five failed attempts to sue the EPA to stop regulations on pesticides, but it has become clear that Pruitt will refuse to face the reality of climate change.
Fatalities at a pizza parlor may have been prevented, but legislative attacks on women’s rights and our planet won’t be spared if we don’t push back against the proliferation of fallacies standing in for facts. Our planet, and all of its inhabitants, depend on organized action grounded in empirical evidence—not convenient “truths” peddled by those with a hidden agenda. It is important that we expose the harm of fake news, especially on women and marginalized communities, as we enter the next era of American politics. As each day brings us closer to Donald Trump’s Administration, it is more important than ever for each of us to consume information critically and consider its source—and to challenge those who believe and/or propagate fake news.