Monday, September 30, 2019

How To Spot A Hoax

It looks like it's time to reprint this, just seven months later. Well, it was coming up anyway, in my most-visited posts. 


Well, one kind of hoax, anyway. I'm not a general hoax expert.

When the story is just too perfect, when it fits the stereotype that the hoax perpetrator wants to believe, that's a big clue. Lots of people wanted it to be true that high school boys wearing MAGA hats were saying racist things and even looking a little violent and out of control. So a Native American says "I thought they were going to lynch those black people." Really?  You thought those 16-year-olds were going to pull out some rope and wade into a group of black adults, and start dragging them out one-by-one, looking for a tree branch or a light pole?

But it would just be so cool if they were like that.  I'll bet they would be like that if they only had the chance.  It's not too far-fetched that they could conceivably do that... 

The racist note written to a black student having difficulties at Air Force Prep turn out to be written by - the victim. Yet that doesn't matter so much as the idea that it could have been written by someone else, and weneedtohaveamonologueCONVERSATIONaboutracism, because all those awful people keep denying that racism and sexism exist, so we will have to proceed as if those lacrosse players could have raped that black girl, or Emma Sulkowitz was really assaulted, that Haven Monahan really exists.  There's a new one, some actor, Smollet?  Justy Smollett?  The first I heard of the story, red flags.  Too perfect.  Most real anti-semitic events are just stupid vandalism, and don't have a poetic beauty about their violence and threats.

Real hate crimes are usually crude: some jerk shoves someone while insulting them. Those happen.  Those are real sexism, homophobia, racism, whatever. But they aren't really interesting enough to make the newspapers.  They are over in a minute.  They might involve a possibility of real violence, but they just don't have the sexiness that a real stereotype-fulfilling story does.  The public demands that a gay martyrdom be real, not just a drug deal gone bad with some other guys who worked for the same pimp.

There was a great one last year, about a black doctor who had struggled under difficult conditions working for the poor all day, then some white bigot called him a racial epithet and squealed his tires getting away in the parking garage, laughing.  My cousin posted it.  You know I am not tactful, but I worked really hard at gradually revealing that this was actually fiction.  I didn't use the words "fake news."  Not even at the end when my cousin insisted rather angrily (and another cousin unfriended me over the exchange) that even if it wasn't technically true it was true and important, because real black people go through things like this every day. Except, well, I actually do know a fair number of black doctors, and they all shook their heads and rolled their eyes when I relayed the story over the next two weeks. It should be true, dammit, therefore its falseness is irrelevant.

Yesterday I had a beauty: a woman who claimed that she had encountered a Trump protestor in a MAGA hat and a red, white, & blue top that barely covered her torso - oh, there's a nice touch. Not that no Trump supporter ever dressed that way, but it was very obliging of the woman to be something unsavory as well as stupid in just the right way, isn't it? - who said "But he's our ruler.  We have to do what he says."

Uh, Trump supporters have the opposite problem.  They might say a lot of silly or obnoxious things, but I think we can fairly rule out the docile followers idea.  I've been in many arguments with them online, including here at my own site, and let me assure you, that is not their problem. What you will find are people who say they will refuse to do X, whether the government or even their favorite president says so, and you have to pull them quietly aside and say "Uh, Phil?  You actually do have to do that.  It's the law.  Just sayin'." But hey, it would have been so cool if some trollop actually had said "He's our ruler. We have to do what he says." Those Trump people are so easily led and certainly capable of it, eh? So some woman somewhere - they think - likely said that.  And, probably a lot like that woman it the skimpy top who said something (completely unrelated that doesn't fit my current narrative), and was really annoying. So we can call it true-ish.  True, really.

Give me a break.  You're lying. No one said that.

I am going to guess at the motives or (ahem) reasoning, but I don't insist on these. We don't know others' motives all that well - we seldom even know all of even our own motives - and motives are mixed. Projection is likely. But I think there is this idea that A) they are right-wing, and therefore Justlikenazis not very far below the surface, and we know that real nazis acted like that in another country and completely different cultural context, know...don't you get it? Okay, sure, when you start insisting on things like evidence in 20thC Europe, it was actually the communists who blindly followed leaders, yes.  Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy were actually highly factionalised countries just barely held together, okay.  But it just feels  like German nazis are the best comparison here, doesn't it?  Because it would be so cool if Trump's supporters turned out to be just like that. It would vindicate us.

Let me throw in a parenting reassurance for free, because there is a parallel.  When the school calls and says your kid is getting detention and is in trouble for X, you usually know immediately if this is off-the-wall.  All five of my sons were capable of earning a detention, but a few times, there would be this accusation and you would go - hmmm. Not my kid. There is something missing from this story. The school doesn't want to hear your protest, because they deal with parents who are clueless about their kid's misbehavior all the time.  Your protest that "This is not my kid's style of misbehavior" will fall on deaf ears.  But for good parents, you know.  "My could could easily do A, or C, or G. But you are telling me he did E, and there's something wrong here.  Hold on."

Wait, this example is much fairer in reverse.  My children could have been told a story that "Your dad got in trouble for saying X to a ref." For some values of X, that would be quite possible.  Yet for others, my children would shake their head.  Nope.  Not my dad.  Not that one.  Someone is making that up.

Once you know to look for poetic perfection as a disproof, the news becomes easier. Bush splitting from the Air National Guard?  Too perfect.  John Kerry getting hat from a CIA guys?  Too perfect.

Bonus extra credit.  Some autobiographies fit the mold.


Christopher B said...

I would add another flag - when the guy they've been calling a dirty liar forever suddenly becomes a saintly truth teller, and what he is saying just happens to support their side of the controversy. Yup, of course, he just decided to come clean now...

Sam L. said...

Too perfect is just WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY too perfect. I hear "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER" (something like that; I never watched that show).

ToWo said...

If a democrat moves his mouth ... it a hoax or a lie ....

RichardJohnson said...

I am reminded of the old saw that Demos consider Pubs evil, while Pubs consider Demos poorly informed. Because Demos consider Pubs evil, making up a story about evil Pubs is merely highlighting an underlying truth about them, say the Demos. Fake but true.

Hope said...

I'm confused by this statement: "Most anti-semitic events are vandalism, and have a poetic beauty about their violence and threats." Are you saying they're hoaxes?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The publicised anti-semitic events sometimes turn out to be hoaxes, yes, carried out by a Jewish person trying to make it look like there is persecution. The recent bomb threats are a good example. This occurs at a lesser rate than for racial hoaxes, but it happens. I don't want to give any impression that most are hoaxes. However, the well-designed spectacular ones are more likely to be attempts to get one's cause into the news. A swastika painted on a synagogue is likely a real hate crime of vandalism. A swastika painted on a professor's door is less likely to be legit.

james said...

You mean the anti-semitic events in this country sometimes turn out to be hoaxes. They seem to be quite genuine in Germany and France.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think some here are quite genuine as well. I don't know that there are any hoaxes of same in Europe.

OhFrenchie! said...

Please hire a proofreader.

Unknown said...

My personal experience consists of being accused of having called a woman the "C" word. Of course there were NO witnesses. She had actually followed me out to my car screaming obscenities at me when I refused to engage in an argument with her in a local tavern. I was a regular there for many years and it was a word I simply DID NOT USE...EVER. EVER. Yet there were those who believed her because as the owner put it... "Based on her actions, that's what 90% of anyone else WOULD HAVE CALLED HER." The problem of course was her boyfriend who felt obligated to defend "Her Honor". People I had known for years split down the middle; with strangely the men believing her, but most women believing me.

Christopher B said...

Arthur - the urge to White Knight is almost universal. Women generally know when other women are lying.

Sam L. said...

Some stories are just TOO perfect to believe.

RichardJohnson said...

Hoax posts are, unfortunately, nearly always timely. There was the recent incident in the DC suburb of Springfield VA where a sixth-grade black girl accused three white male classmates of cutting off her dreadlocks. It made the WaPo and other national outlets.
A lot of blog commenters from the beginning thought it was a hoax. One "too perfect" detail- the white boys calling the girl "nappy" or "nappy-headed." While this is a term in use among blacks, it is not likely that a white eleven-year-old boy would know the term.

"Unexpectedly," this turned out to be a hoax.Virginia sixth-grader now says she falsely accused classmates of cutting her hair.

To the credit of the girl's grandparents,they issued an apology;

The grandparents of the girl, who are her legal guardians, released an apology Monday.
“To those young boys and their parents, we sincerely apologize for the pain and anxiety these allegations have caused,” the grandparents wrote in a statement sent to The Washington Post by the school. “To the administrators and families of Immanuel Christian School, we are sorry for the damage this incident has done to trust within the school family and the undue scorn it has brought to the school. To the broader community, who rallied in such passionate support for our daughter, we apologize for betraying your trust.”
“We understand there will be consequences and we’re prepared to take responsibility for them,” the statement continued. “We know that it will take time to heal, and we hope and pray that the boys, their families, the school and the broader community will be able to forgive us in time.”

That this comment was the highest rated comment when I checked indicates that WaPo readers haven't completely gone off the deep end.
She’s just a kid and did this for an as yet unknown reason. I blame all the media who take stories like this and run with them before any type of investigation is done. It happens just often enough that the story is a hoax that you would think the media wouldn’t be so careless.

But I wouldn't hold my breath. Another comment indicates that there are still a sizeable contingent of True Woke Believers among WaPo readers.

Drinker of the Wry: Some comments from the original WaPo story:

Miss lee Ding 1 day ago No surpize that this was a Christian school. Intolerance 101 is likely the first class of each day for those students. Betsy Devos will have it as a national teaching goal in no time.

Out_Trump 2 days ago Looks like we have three future Supreme Court nominees. White, check. Bullying, check. Racist, check. Good start boyz.

grif-grif 2 days ago First of all, charge them with a hate crime. It was a pre-meditated, orchestrated, hate crime!! Secondly, sue the church for not protecting that little girl. Thirdly, I know some young boys that would love to meet with those who assaulted this girl and really show them what a beat down really looks like. As Madea would say; "They need to be got!!" I am convinced that that is the only way you can get the message across that racism has no place in this society, let alone in a church, is to beat it into them. (Hope my pastor isn't reading this). I also think the church should lose its tax-exempt status, permanently...

ThomasPaine 2 days ago Charming. Ahhhh, Christians. Maybe they thought she was a witch. Regardless, this seems a clear cut case where castration is in order. Nip the three boys' aggressive behavior in the bud, as it were.

augustinesreign 2 days ago Crazy! Expulsion and hate crime felonies all around. Little psychos need to be properly punished. Parents need to sue the school and the lil criminals' guardians.

I wonder if we will see a reduction in hate crime hoaxes, given how so many have recently been exposed. I fear not.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Have any of the Washington Post editorialists doubled back to bemoan the unfortunate number of obvious bigots they have in their readership? Or challenged those commenters to retract?

We too easily see the faults of our enemies.