Hard News by Russell Brown


Our own fake news

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was forced to resign after being caught giving $13.7m in taxpayer money to the Clinton Foundation. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), John Key was forced to step down after he colluded with the National Party to funnel millions of taxpayer funds to the Clinton’s. He is now under investigation.

Nah, not really. But that is the top of a YourNewsWire story shared on Facebook by a friend with an unfortunate habit of sharing such things. That story, dated July 9, in turn credits one on something called AccMag – which, perplexingly, leaves out the obvious lead about John Key being forced to resign and being investigated.

When I first wrote about this bullshit in January, I ventured that that the authors of the bullshit at the Taxpayers' Union "know quite well they’re constructing fake news". Did they get a result?

Although the story my friend shared was dated Sunday, it's been rattling around since October last year, shortly after the Clinton Health Access Initiative published its updated donor list and MFAT subsequently confirmed to NBR that $7.7 million had been allocated to joint venture CHAI projects to reduce child malnutrition in Rwanda and Ethiopia.

After that, the Taxpayers Union made an OIA request for the information, which duly published with all the weird, sweaty spin and disinfo you'd expect. (Ironically, it wasn't really news. The project was already listed on MFAT’s African aid page and the New Zealand-based international aid consultancy FCG ANZDEC announced back in 2013 that it would be working with the New Zealand Aid Programe and CHAI on the project.)

It's NBR's original November story, with its David Seymour quote, which was swiftly excerpted for a yarn headed $13.7m NZ taxpayer funds pledged to shady Clinton charity on the website Wake Up NZ. It's this text that went viral and which has since been republished more times that I cared to count on similar websites and forums.

So it's not, as I initially supposed, that our very own Clinton conspiracy was provided to left-wing conspiracy loons by a cynical right-wing lobby group – more that the conspiracy loons and the right-wing lobby group discovered it at the same time and both doubled down on the stupid.

But back to John Key resigning. That mutation has actually been around for a few months, too. The first instance I could see was in December on this blog on the America wingnut hub The Free Republic, citing this post on a thing called Investment Watch Blog. Typically, the text of the cited story – which is the same as the original Wake Up NZ post – doesn't actually support the claim that New Zealand's Prime Minister was forced to resign. It's simply added in the headline absent any support in the text.

This is exactly how fake news is made.

Like I said, you can see endless iterations of this story on the swathes of the internet where the far left, the far right and those people simply looking to game the programmatic advertising market convene over an obsession with the misdeeds of the Clintons. It will literally never go away now. The market for this stuff is bottomless and and remonstrating with people who believe it usually isn't worth the bother.

This was a quick scour and I may have missed a link in the chain, so feel free to pass some time digging through it yourself. Read the comments, if you dare. Meanwhile, I think I'll be using this one the next time I talk to students about how fake news gets made.

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