Hillary Clinton has called for Congress and Silicon Valley to counter an “epidemic” of fake online news, after a conspiracy theorist fired a gun inside a Washington, DC pizza parlor he believed was part of a child sex trafficking ring linked to Clinton. Clinton raised the subject of “malicious fake news and false propaganda” more generally, saying it had “flooded social media over the past year.” But “it’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences,” she said. “This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities.”
Clinton remained vague in her condemnation. But the statement is seemingly a reference to threats against Comet Ping Pong and other pizzerias at the center of “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that claims Clinton’s former presidential chair John Podesta is part of a pedophilia ring hiding behind coded food terms. Over the weekend, a self-styled Pizzagate investigator showed up at Comet Ping Pong with a rifle, and was arrested after firing it inside the restaurant. The man, Edgar Maddison Welch, said he had become convinced that Comet Ping Pong was hiding child sex slaves after investigating the theory online.
Clinton said that “Silicon Valley is starting to grapple with the challenge and threat of fake news,” and cited legislation that would “boost the government’s response to foreign propaganda.” This is apparently a reference to the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016, which would establish a government department to identify and respond to propaganda, particularly from Russia. “It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy, and innocent lives,” Clinton said.
Although false stories can be greatly amplified by platforms like Facebook, it’s not clear how distinct Pizzagate is from other long-running conspiracy theories — including the largely pre-web Satanic panic, with which it shares plenty of DNA. But as Clinton’s remarks show, the newly identified phenomenon of “fake news” has become a way to focus larger concerns about disinformation, online rumor-panics, and the role of social media in newsmaking. Her full statement is below.
Let me just mention briefly one threat in particular that should concern all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike — especially those who serve in our Congress: the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year. It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities. It’s a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly. Bipartisan legislation is making its way through Congress to boost the government’s response to foreign propaganda, and Silicon Valley is starting to grapple with the challenge and threat of fake news. It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy, and innocent lives.