Glenn Greenwald has issued a blistering takedown of the Washington Post’s recent article claiming a group of anonymous “experts” has proved that a whole list of websites disseminate Russian propaganda.
At a time of growing concern over the spread of “fake news” online, the bottom line from Greenwald’s piece:
That is the essence of how fake news functions, and it is the ultimate irony that this Post story ended up illustrating and spreading far more fake news than it exposed.
I don’t entirely disagree with that conclusion. Nonetheless, there are a couple problems with Greenwald’s own critique.
First, he paints anyone who so much as shared the Post piece as lazy or having an interest in spreading this false narrative. I am one who read the piece and shared the link. I thought the anonymity of the sources and their opaque methods were problematic. But the story was an interesting entry in the ongoing debate about fake news. So I shared it. As is so often said on Twitter, retweet (or in this case, sharing) does not necessarily equal endorsement.
Second, there is a false equivalence here. One dubious story from WaPo does not make it a fake news outlet of the kind that has raised so much concern recently. Of course, one might argue that a smaller number of false stories from the likes of WaPo are worse because of the influence that such publications have. Nonetheless, WaPo getting it wrong is not the same as sites that do nothing but quite literally fabricate and spread false stories.
Finally, though Greenwald does acknowledge that there are actual Russian propaganda outlets, he nonetheless downplays the extent and impact of such propaganda. I think there’s more going on with Russian “active measures” online than Greenwald and others who see such concerns as merely neo-McCarthyite sour grapes from Clinton campaign dead enders will admit. However, I also don’t think such tactics have been as successful–or at least, not in the way some imagine them to have been–as folks like the PropOrNot crew who see Putin behind every right wing meme grandma shares on Facebook.