Thursday, December 08, 2016

Can Satire Survive a Fake News Ban?

Still just weeks after election day most of the interest in the fake news story surrounds the role it may have played in deciding the presidential race. However, the bizarre Comet Pizza story about a vigilante trying to rescue imaginary captive children may be providing a dark preview of what's to come -- more troubling real news about the impact of fake news. 

Happy New Year! 

Given how contagious hysteria tends to be in these always-online days, will 2017 be the year a tidal wave of fake news paranoia washes over the nation? Will Congress be able to resist the call to do something about dangerous fake news?

Just 12 months from now, picture a Saturday Night Live skit being busted in progress on live TV. In this scenario, for presenting a satirical news story about President Trump having the White House painted gold -- quibbling over the deal, cheating the contractors, etc. -- the SNL cast members would be hauled off. In handcuffs. For testing the nation's brand new laws forbidding the dissemination of fake news stories about government actions or officials

Crazy? No doubt. What the hell would have to happen in the USA to spur on such an Orwellian censorship crackdown?

The answer is more Comet Pizza-like stories, only with plenty of blood strewn about the crime scene. Then throw in more damning evidence suggesting some of the election-tilting scams of 2016 were indeed dished out by Russians ... well, that could set the voters' collective fear and indignation to boiling and bubbling. 

If the spreading of more bogus news stories is seen as causing a couple of bloodbaths, well, it gets a little easier to picture outcries calling for action. In response, the Republican-led Congress – goosed by a muscular Trump administration – might leap at the chance to stem the wicked tide. Federal scrutiny of the press and the entertainment industry would likely follow Congressional hearings.

If enforcement of anti-fake news laws becomes vigorous enough that live bust scene on SNL starts to morph from an absurd reach, to being more likely than it ought to be. After all, while candidate Trump was all over the map on some issues, his bombastic attacks on the mainstream media were consistent. 

Furthermore, to assume President-elect Trump now feels he has a mandate to crack down on any sedition that irritates him is hardly a reach. After inauguration day on Jan. 20, protest marches denouncing the Trump administration's policies may be confronted with a somewhat harsher response than did those that followed election day. Can't happen here?

Think again, I'm old enough to remember Selma in 1965 and Kent State in 1970. Our American history is replete with examples of governmental heavy-handed tactics to quell dissent. It has happened here and could again. If it does come to that don't think there won't be plenty of cheerleaders in favor of punishing anti-Trump demonstrators by roughing them up. 

Although some folks will always enjoy seeing pranks ruffle feathers, the fake news epidemic is bound to overstay it's welcome. Which means sooner or later we're probably going to see both clumsy laws and clever laws crafted to wipe it out. Where that will lead is anybody's guess. You've just read mine.

Maybe we all need to think about the perils of living in an echo chamber that only reinforces our preconceived notions. Maybe none of us should share those unverified click bait stories and trashy memes on Facebook. 

Moreover, if the battered fourth estate and we the befuddled people don't find a practical way to solve this fake news problem, ASAP, one of our favorite forms of humor may be in for a rough ride with Trump in the Gold House.  


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