Donald Trump ate my hamster

And Freddie Starr beat Max Clifford to win the US Presidency

So the unimaginable did happen. The Donald came from behind and now he is President-elect.

Trump’s unexpected triumph intersects perfectly with the recent spate of false news stories garnering higher positions in search engine results than genuine news stores. I say this because many of the false news stories are related to Trump. Indeed, some people believe that they are major contributors to his triumph, even, perhaps, the “edge” that he needed to pip Hillary to the post.

This disconcerting trend has even evoked comments from the current US president, Barack Obama, who has denounced the spate of misinformation across social media platforms but without getting drawn into the specific cases of stories related to the presidential election. (One might compare this statesmanlike approach to Trump’s cries of “foul” even before the polls were tallied.)

Whilst fake election stories are the current vogue, the fake news phenomenon extends much further into may other realms. For example:

Real New Right Now is a major source of fake news such as “Unreleased Old Testament Verses Suggest Adam and Eve Were Not the First Humans” and “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Confederate Flags, Memorabilia.”

Harmless?

Well what about last year’s “U.S. to House 250,000 Syrian Refugees at Navajo, Standing Rock Indian Reservations?” Another fake story, just another harmless joke? Maybe not so harmless when it is understood, and repeated, as fact, by Fox New’s Sean Hannity.

And also by Donald Trump.

Still harmless? When the future president believes the story? Particularly a racist, anti-Islam presidential candidate?

The site’s owner considers the site satire, akin to “The Onion” and other sites clearly understood to be satire (or maybe not?). But clearly his site is not similarly understood.

And why does he do it?

For the clicks.

His site, and many like it, make money when a proportion of visitors click on the adverts on the site. So the zanier, weirder, more outrageous he can make his stories, the more visitors that he may get. And if these visitors don’t realize that they are reading satire / fake news?

So this fake news epidemic is fed by webmasters trying to earn money.

And lots of money.

Henry Blodget co-founded news aggregator site BusinessInsider.com and sold it eight years later for $343m (he is rumored to have owned between 10% and 15%). If this can be achieved with “mundane” real news, imagine the possibilities with “clickbait” fake stories.

Wikidiots are known to believe and not question. Winnowing the truth from the lies online will just become more and more difficult.

Starr, Clifford and the hamster

For those unfamiliar with the title and sub-title references to hamsters, Freddie Starr and Max Clifford, the original story is from 1986 when The Sun, a populist British tabloid newspaper, ran the story “Freddie Starr ate my hamster.”

At the time Freddie Starr was one of the top comedians in the UK.

freddiehamster

The story was completely fabricated by the hamster’s owner and then approved for publication by Clifford, probably the leading celebrity publicist of the era, although now disgraced and sentenced to eight years in prison for indecent assault on underage girls (the offenses happening prior to 2003 – in 2003 the UK Sexual Offences Act re-categorized his actions as rape).

Commenting on the Freddie Starr story during a TV interview years later (but before his arrest, trial and conviction for the aforementioned sexual offenses) about whether the comedian had really eaten a hamster, Clifford’s reply was “of course not,” whilst stressing that the story had given Starr’s career a huge boost.

He repeated the summary of the story in 2012 at the Leveson enquiry (into British media ethics).

Clifford’s deliberate media placement of a false story (one of many if rumors about him are to be believed) triggered a major debate in British society about whether or not Starr had eaten the hamster and, if he had, what sort of person he was. But to echo Clifford’s “of course not” retort and to misquote Oscar Wilde (who actually said “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”), “any publicity is good publicity” (although Toyota and BP may not agree) .

Clifford’s news story could be interpreted as harmless manipulation to benefit a celebrity client without impacting politics or society or the economy. But it is a decade’s old example of the fact that once something appears in the media (printed media at the time, but these days also electronic media) it is believed by a substantial proportion of the population.

Clifford’s story may have been more believable because it came soon after true stories about Ozzie Osbourne’s chiropteravorous antics (once on stage he bit the head off a live bat) and Keith Moon’s rock and roll lifestyle:

Pete Townshend: “Keith Moon, God rest his soul, once drove his car through the glass doors of a hotel, driving all the way up to the reception desk, got out and asked for the key to his room.”

Roger Daltrey: “I think if Keith Moon was here today and you asked him to recall most of his early life or most of his life, he wouldn’t be able to recall it.”

#DonaldTrumpAteMyHamster

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