For years to come there will be no better case study to illustrate the damage that unsubstantiated news, internet trolls, and social media can create than ‘Pizzagate’. The shameful, made-up information and the events that followed will comprise an authoritative discussion piece for parents, and it should enter every middle and high school media/news literacy curriculum.
In the April 20, 2017 Washington Post, Comet Pizza owner James Alefantis writes about how fake news concerning his restaurant went viral. His article What Happened When ‘PizzaGate’ Came to My Restaurant describes what happened when his business, neighbors, and customers suffered because of harassment, frightening phone calls, menacing comments to workers and their families, intimidation toward nearby businesses, and even death threats. Yet Alefantis also describes how his strong community — neighbors and other businesses — rallied in support.
When a man, who took the unproven information and the trolls seriously, arrived at the restaurant with a powerful rifle, people were able to evacuate, and fortunately, no one was hurt. The man searched the premises, found nothing, and walked out to be arrested by the police. He will be jailed for a long, long time. Law enforcement also walked throughout the cafe collecting evidence.
So senseless, all because of made-up facts and the people who magnify them — and still not completely over.
You can also read ‘Pizzagate’ Shows How Fake News Hurts Real People, a Washington Post editorial.
N.B. I’ve had pizza at Comet Pizza and it’s great.