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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 22, 20175min934
Snopes.com concluded the above collage — a staple of Facebook news feeds — was doctored. (Facebook.com via Snopes.com)

As we prepare to close out 2017, the mania over #FakeNews probably warrants a last hurrah before giving way to 2018’s hottest hashtags. Jason Salzman’s left-leaning media watchdog, The Big Media Blog, has released its “Colorado Fake News Awards 2017” as part of its campaign to call out those on the political right who use social media to share headlines that range from questionable to comical — as if they were gospel.

Salzman, a veteran antagonist of all things GOP, makes no secret of his partisan tilt and, fairly or otherwise, reserves his dubious distinctions for elected Republicans. State Sen. Ray Scott, of Grand Junction gets the “Crusader for a Fact-Free Colorado! Award”;  the “Who the F*** Cares about the Facts? Award” is bestowed on House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, and so forth.

Salzman’s choice of offenders notwithstanding — and whether or not they actually realized at least some of their posts lacked veracity — a lot of the content itself is almost worthy of the tabloid rack at your local supermarket:

Scott refused to remove from his Facebook page a fake news item titled, “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS…Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News.” He also refused to delete a tweet with this ridiculous (and fake) quote from Ronald Reagan about Trump: “For the life of me, and I’ll never know how to explain it, when I met that young man, I felt like I was the one shaking hands with a president.”

Fake is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and some of the content Salzman skewers is arguably more selective than fake. Here’s his criticism of posts on illegal immigration by Colorado Springs Republican state Rep. Dave Williams (for whom illegal-immigration-bashing has indeed become a hobby horse):

… you’d think they were responsible for 83 percent of crimes committed on American soil if you only got your news from the Facebook timeline of state Rep. Dave Williams (R-Colo. Springs). … Williams’ vastly disproportionate focus on immigrant crime deceives his Facebook followers into believing that undocumented immigrants are dangerous, when in reality, they’re more likely to be law-abiding citizens, and may actually cause crime to decline in their communities.

Unrepresentative, maybe, but is it untrue? The specific crime stories Williams chooses to post may well be accurate.

Meanwhile, here’s another question: Does this kind of stuff really have the potential to sway anyone beyond the most marginal voters?

Or, is it no more detrimental to democracy than, say, news of space aliens abducting the Olsen twins?

Come to think of it, we haven’t heard from them in a while.

 

This one wasn’t fodder for The Big Media Blog’s “Colorado Fake News Awards 2017,” but it merits an honorable mention in our book. For the record, Hillary Clinton never met Osama bin Laden. As far as we know. (Facebook.com)

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 18, 20177min346

Is the Facebook face-off between state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and a few of his political detractors getting out of hand and maybe just a little bit silly?

Meanwhile, are we witnessing the development of the newest M.O. for ambushing political foes — social media-spawned legal actions? More on that below, but first, the latest in the Scott saga:

Three Grand Junction-area critics of the veteran lawmaker who recently accused him of nudging them out of his Facebook and Twitter accounts by hiding their comments and blocking them now have called on Senate President Kevin Grantham to launch a formal ethics investigation. A bit far-fetched, you say? The complainants seem pretty serious. Reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s Charles Ashby:

The three complainants say that because Scott is a duly elected official, his Twitter and Facebook accounts constitute a public forum that should be open to all.

“Senator Scott maintains his Facebook page and Twitter accounts under the aegis of his position as a state elected official for the purpose of interacting with members of the public,” the three said in their complaint. “He uses his Facebook page to share policy-related information with constituents. Senator Scott primarily uses his social media accounts as tools of governance, keeping constituents abreast of his official activities as a state senator.”

Scott told the Sentinel he only blocks inappropriate or off-topic comments. He also said:

“I look at (social media) as something that I do personally because I scour news stories, and if I think it’s something of interest to constituents who might be friending me because they don’t get The Daily Sentinel, for example, I post the story … The state doesn’t pay for this. There’s no state staffer that posts for me.”

As noted here the other day, the critics — who include a local, left-of-center blogger and a self-described “progressive” activist — cite a recent federal court ruling in Virginia that a public official had violated a local constituent’s right to free speech by taking down negative comments he had posted to the official’s Facebook page. The court found the official had acted “under color of law” in maintaining the page largely as a forum for public office, as well as in removing unwanted comments.

Yet, only days after that ruling, the same plaintiff also lost a very similar case he had brought against another local government. Same U.S District Court but a different judge.

A higher court may have to sort it all out in the end.

It’s the ruling in favor of that plaintiff, of course, that is inspiring some political activists — and not just in Colorado — to take action. In fact, it appears to have become the tactic of choice in a number of lawsuits around the country by those looking to get even with politicians they oppose. Here’s commentator Robert Knight in the Washington Times:

Several Republican governors have joined President Trump in an exclusive but growing club: They are being sued by left-wing organizations for removing persistent critics from their Facebook or Twitter pages.

In many cases, we’re talking about trolls, the people who post inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments. The latest to face the trolls’ wrath is Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued last Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine on behalf of two clients who say they were unconstitutionally blocked from Mr. LePage’s Facebook page.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin are among the targets, as well. Knight also notes:

On July 11, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a federal suit against President Trump and two aides (former press secretary Sean Spicer and social media director Dan Scavino) in the Southern District of New York for blocking users critical of him from his private Twitter account.

Is Scott infringing on the rights of those who post comments on his own social media accounts? Perhaps the courts will resolve that one.

While they’re at it, the courts also might be asked to consider if officeholders like Scott are the targets of orchestrated trolling tactics that taunt them into reprisal and then haul them to court. More or less the digital equivalent of hounding politicians into “town hall” meetings — and then shouting them down if and when they show up.


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David O. WilliamsDavid O. WilliamsAugust 31, 20168min307

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis on Monday told The Colorado Statesman that the battle for greater local control over oil and gas drilling will keep coming back every two years if the State Legislature is unable to take action on the emotionally charged issue of fracking in and around neighborhoods. “Issues are always best addressed legislatively, but if the Legislature fails to address it, I’m sure proponents of ballot initiatives will be back,” Polis told The Statesman on Monday after Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams concluded supporters of two anti-fracking ballot initiatives — one of which Polis backed — didn’t collect enough valid voter signatures.