Unethical Website Of The Month: AWD News

My best guess: "AWD" stands for "Assholes Wanting Destruction."

My best guess: “AWD” stands for “Assholes Wanting Destruction.”

You might think that AWD News gets this coveted Ethics Alarms Honor by having one of its hoax news stories prompted a threat of nuclear retaliation against Israel by Pakistan’s Defense Minister.

You would be wrong. That embarrassing response from a Pakistan official with a penchant for saber rattling is just moral luck. The story that “The former Israeli Defence Minister has threatened to “destroy” Pakistan-after Pakistan said on Thursday it will send Sunni fighters to Syria” was a hoax, and since no other news source was reporting it, the fact that Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, allowed his confirmation bias to take over his brain, and leaped to the assumption that it was accurate just shows that Pakistan has an irresponsible fool in a key government position.

Imagine that. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: News 4 KTLA

NOT breaking news; web hoaxes like this are the scourge of the web...

NOT breaking news: Web hoaxes like this are the scourge of the web…

Yet another despicable news hoax site—they are all despicable—News 4 KTLA crossed into especially vile territory with this headline yesterday:

Massive Bumble Bee Recall After 2 Employees Admit Cooking A Man And Mixing Him With A Batch Of Tuna

First, the headline even doesn’t match the story under it, which mentions nothing about  “mixing” human remains with tuna, or a recall. The story, a little checking reveals, is based on an genuine tragedy, company employee José Melena’s accidental death in October 2012. His remains were not “mixed with a batch of tuna,” however, and has absolutely nothing to do with the Bumble Bee tuna recall announced this month.

So let’s see…these lying, irresponsible low-life pranksters,

  • … think its hilarious to turn a man’s tragic death into a hoax for their own juvenile amusement,
  • …risk doing gratuitous and malicious tangible financial and reputation damage to a food company, endangering investments and jobs, and
  • …induce gullible, trusting social media users to spread these “humorous” lies and become unwitting accessories to the hoaxers’ irresponsible act of misinformation and web pollution.

I’ve searched: News 4 KTLA has no disclaimers to warn readers that it’s a fake news site, and even includes real stories to make sure as many people are deceived as possible. Snopes was on this one lightning fast—bravo.

Every time I flag one of these miserable websites, someone writes in that I have no sense of humor and it was obviously just a harmless joke that only gullible fools fell for, and they had it coming. New policy: I’m going to just ban those commenters from now on. They are responsible for encouraging scum like the jerks behind The News Nerd, this site and the rest. They don’t belong on an ethics site, and are not welcome here.

Unethical Website Of The Month: “News Right Now”

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I never heard of “News Right Now,” until Sean Hannity and maybe Donald Trump fell for one of the Onion wannabe’s fake news stories. That, of course, is what such sites live for—to get some prominent publication, pundit or news commentator to fall for a satirical story and get the site’s name in the real news. In this case, it was NRN’s not very funny and not completely unbelievable (for the Obama administration anyway} item titled U.S. to House 250,000 Syrian Refugees at Navajo, Standing Rock Indian Reservations.

I don’t have any sympathy for Hannity. There are fake news sites all over the web; by now journalists should be taking care that they aren’t accepting a spoof as fact, and passing it on to add more confusion and information pollution to public discourse. Using this gag story was lazy, incompetent, careless and inexcusable. Hannity let confirmation bias over come whatever common sense he has, just like my retired liberal journalist friend, who has posted on Facebook ridiculous fake stories about Republicans saying crazy things. To be fair, in a nation where a member of Congress openly worries about Guam tipping over, who knows what is too silly to be true? Continue reading

The Ethical Hoax

An unlikely research team produces remarkable results!

An unlikely research team produces remarkable results!

As anyone who reads Ethics Alarms with any regularity knows, I detest hoaxes large and small, from the Piltdown man to the Hitler diaries to the offal thrown into the information stream by websites like The News Nerd.(Let’s see: what “satirical, humorous, obviously fake” story does the site that calls itself “America’s premium news site” offer as fact today? This: “As Deflategate looms over the heads of the New England Patriots, a source with the NFL has revealed that the league is considering permanently barring Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick from ever working in the National Football League in any capacity. That drastic action would only be taken if it is discovered that Belichick was directly responsible for the deflated footballs…” I guess that’s obviously satire because the NFL would never have the integrity to take such action, right? The story isn’t there to fool gullible blogs and sportswriters working on a deadline into republishing it…) Hoaxes are lies intended to deceive in order to humiliate whoever believes them, and often to enrich the hoaxer.

Occasionally, however, a hoax becomes an ethically justifiable tool. Such is the case with the bogus scholarly medical research article created by Dr. Mark Shrime titled “Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs?”

Shrime was disturbed at the number of apparently legitimate medical journals with impressive names like the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology that offer to publish papers for a $500 fee. Shrime calls them predatory journals, in part because they prey on trusting third world researchers and scientists for who $500 is a fortune. The other reason they are predatory is that they exploit the confusing—to laymen, which is to say, journalists– welter of legitimate scholarly journals in order to dangle intriguing junk science in front of the eyes of reporters who barely comprehend what they are reading. As Elizabeth Segren writes at Fast Company: Continue reading

Facebook’s Unconstitutional News Hoax Policy

I've got your backs, you contemptible jerks...

I’ve got your backs, you contemptible jerks…

Boy, there’s a lot of pro-censorship sentiment going around these days. I wonder why?

The latest comes from Facebook, which now is going to attempt to shield us from “hoaxes.” I don’t trust the government to decide what I should read and I don’t trust Facebook to do it either. Nobody should.

Back in the sixties, Economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote papers and books asserting that large corporations were becoming the new nations and states, and that it was their power, not elected governments, that would decide how we lived. Galbraith wasn’t the best professor I aver had (he was the tallest), and his assertions in this realm were certainly exaggerated, but a lot of what he foresaw has come to pass. It is true that the First Amendment prohibition against government censorship of expressive speech doesn’t apply to private entities, but it is also true that huge corporations like Facebook weren’t even a twinkle in the eye of the Founders when that core American value was articulated. Any corporate entity that has the power to decide what millions of Americans get to post on the web is ethically obligated to embrace the same balance of rights over expediency that the Constitution demands of the state, specifically free speech over expediency, period, exclamation point, no exceptions. Embodying Clarence Darrow’s statement that in order for us to have enough freedom, it is necessary to have too much, the Supreme Court has even pronounced outright lies to be protected speech.

For this reason, Facebook’s well-intentioned anti-hoax policies—boy, there’s also a lot of well-intentioned lousy policies going around these days, being applauded for their goals whether they work or not. I wonder why?—add one more offense to core American ideals.

You can read Facebook’s new policy here. The key section: Continue reading

Unethical Website of the Month: Hoax Site “The News Nerd”

Sorry, Aretha. You are just an innocent pawn in a slimy website's quest for links.

Sorry, Aretha. You are just an innocent pawn in a slimy website’s quest for links.

Updates follow the original post…

Bonus ethics points are due Mediaite writer Luke O’Neill, who placed the word ‘satire’ in scare quotes while describing the website called “The News Nerd,” which he grouped with, in his words, “The National Report (behind this recent viral hoax about Bill Murray stopping a bank robbery), The Daily Currant, and the rest of the plague of woefully unfunny bottom-feeders who’ve clogged up our newsfeeds of late.” The site in question has been sued by pop icon Aretha Franklin, who argues that its unfunny fake story about her  getting into a fistfight with fellow diva Patti LaBelle is defamatory.  Aretha is going to lose, of course,* and worse, she is bringing more attention, traffic and income to the despicable website, which I will not link to and assist its sordid little game.

Getting links and traffic is the whole point of such sites: write and publish a plausible but strange made-up news story that enough news aggregation sites and bloggers believe, hope the story goes viral, and reap the monetary rewards of notoriety and ethical misconduct. “The News Nerd” had one of its “successes” recently by falsely reporting that George Zimmerman was peddling a new painting, this one of Trayvon Martin. It is a vile, if not especially new, creature on the web, one that makes the internet even less reliable and trustworthy than it was. Such sites’ victims are the trusting, hurried and inattentive. They masquerade as satire sites, but are intentionally poor ones. Their stories are not clever or sufficiently well-made to signal their allegedly humorous nature, and the disclaimers are hidden, perhaps a click away, or at the bottom of a screen, where the site-owners know many readers will never look. Continue reading