The Fake News Five

Melissa Ryan
Jan 22, 2017 · 3 min read

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Fake news just won’t go away. Donald Trump loves to tweet about it every chance he gets. He also loves to tweet fake news stories, something for which he’s often called out in the press.

I’ve written previously about fake news as a form of attack with the goal of making it difficult to tell truth from fiction. Last week, I also wrote about Trump’s own efforts to scramble truth and fiction and how that strategy benefits his administration. Expect both of these trends to continue. Outside actors will continue to flood the internet with fake news, and the Trump administration will continue to amplify and validate many of these stories.

So what do we do about it? We co-opt their tactics for our own purposes. Here are five fake news tactic that we can put to use immediately.

  1. Debrand our communications American faith in institutions is at an all-time low. The creators of fake news understand this. That’s why they don’t generally bother with trying to make their content look like it came from an actual media outlet or political organization. We can adopt this tactic in our own communications. Much of our content on the left is overproduced, and therefore comes off as inauthentic. We need to loosen the reins on brand identity, or create content with no branding at all. The look and feel of our content can and mirror that of fake news sites more closely.
  2. Affirm our values As I watch the right wingers on my Facebook feed share fake news and memes with false information I’ve come to understand that what’s beyond the headline or the initial image isn’t relevant. Fake news is a statement of values. The factual truth doesn’t matter, but the values conveyed are paramount. The resistance doesn’t need fake news to create content meant to reaffirm our values, but we can create headlines and images that convey our values more intentionally.
  3. Lift voices up One thing Donald Trump did masterfully was amplify and validate content created by others. This allowed him to give ideas attention while also giving himself some distance from them. For whatever reason, progressive organizations have long been squeamish about lifting up organic content. It’s time to let go of our fears and embrace internet culture. Progressive organizations and communicators need to use their platform to life up content created by others.
  4. Activate influencers Fake news isn’t just about content creation but distribution. The networks for getting fake news out into the world are surprisingly small. These folks have cultivated and activated lists of power users to share fake news and right wing content. We can and should do the same, and we shouldn’t just limit that sharing to the content we create. Our power users can become part of our efforts to amplify and validate organic content as well as what our digital shops create.
  5. Organize in the open The creators and distributors of fake news organize in the open and they don’t make much effort to cover their tracks. Reporters have been able to trace the origins of the #pizzagate conspiracy, #BlackLivesMatter organizers being falsely accused of being behind a vicious attack, and fake news originating in other countries and distributed in the US. This week alone reporters uncovered how German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being pummeled with fake news stories in German and English and interviewed Cameron Harris, a creator of fake news in America detailing his craft. Organizing our own content and distribution in the open makes it easier for others to join us and add their own voices to our efforts. Instead of turning inward, we should adopt this tactic for ourselves. If the frog squad has shown us anything, it’s that there’s clearly no downside to being transparent about what we’re up to.

I don’t think we can stop fake news, nor do I think we should try. Resistance in the era of Trump requires us to adopt a different mindset. What they’ve been doing works. We need to get more comfortable stealing from their playbook.


Ctrl Alt Right Delete is a weekly newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back.

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Melissa Ryan

Written by

Politics + technology. Author of Ctrl Alt Right Delete newsletter. Subscribe here: https://goo.gl/c74Vva. Coffee drinker. Kentucky basketball fan.

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