Real UFOs. Fake News. 

Did you read The New York Times story Sunday about Navy pilots who've encountered UFOs? Here's the lead paragraph: "The strange objects ... appeared almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, high in the skies over the East Coast. Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds."

The story quotes six pilots who had encounters with these mysterious objects, and it even links to a video filmed by two Navy pilots that shows incidents of U.S. planes pursuing mysterious flying objects. The video showed objects accelerating to hypersonic speed, making sudden stops and instantaneous turns — something beyond the physical limits of a human crew.

After one pilot had a near-collision with one of the UFOs, the pilots began to complain to superiors that something needed to be done, so a system was set up to monitor and record observations of encounters with UFOs.

This story was being widely circulated on social media. Oddly, I saw no one who claimed that the story was "fake news from the failing New York Times." Maybe that's because everybody loves these kinds of stories, no matter their politics. I don't know.

click to enlarge toc_05_30_19_i1.jpg

I do know that the Memorial Day weekend was particularly rife with fake news memes, including a photo of former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama supposedly taken at a Memorial Day celebration in which Michelle did not have her hand on her heart and had a surly look on her face.

Here's a sampling of comments: "Disgraceful!" "They are both sh*t." "Thank God we have a real patriot as president now!"

Of course, there were the usual well-meaning folks who pointed out that the photo had been widely debunked as a photoshop from 2015, but to little avail from the "Obummer" haters, who doubted the legitimacy of the fact-checkers.

Similarly, some anti-Trump folks circulated a meme showing the cost of the president's golf outings at $102 million and counting. Some doubters claimed that since the president owned his golf resorts and takes no salary, these numbers were bogus. Others claimed that Obama golfed much more than Trump. When folks pointed out that the amount spent on Trump's golf trips had been researched and validated by numerous legitimate news outlets, the responses were that it was "fake news" from fake news outlets. Of course. This is where we are, America.

With the 2020 election campaign drawing nigh, this sort of misinformation will only increase in frequency and subtlety. See last week's wide-spread dissemination of an altered video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, slowed down to make her appear drunk. It was viewed more than two million times on Facebook pages and conservative websites. Hours after it had been debunked, it was shown on Fox News as legit, and later tweeted by the president and by his consigliere Rudy Giuliani.

There was once a time when America had what was called a "fairness doctrine," in which the FCC required that broadcast media give "equal time" to opposing views. How quaint that seems now, in this era where we all choose our own facts. It's the Wild West, where anything goes, and the truth is just the latest clever meme.

I don't know how we fix it, but there are countries that are taking real steps to assure that poisonous lies don't get spread so easily. One example is the tiny nation of Estonia, which suffered a Russian cyber attack on its elections in 2008 (widely seen as a dress rehearsal for later, more ambitious cyber-meddling). Estonia instituted a national cyber-security strategy (ENISA), which consisted of a basic reboot of its election systems, heightened security measures for banks, utilities, and other high-risk targets, and a massive public information campaign designed to help Estonians become more cyber-literate, better able to spot mischief and misinformation masquerading as truth.

It's a subject that needs to be addressed as soon as possible in the U.S. — "as soon as possible" meaning as soon as the Senate is loosened from the grasp of Mitch McConnell and the GOP, which has steadfastly refused to take any measures to improve the nation's electoral cyber-security. It's almost as though they wouldn't mind if the Russians got another shot at screwing up our elections. Weird, huh?

Not weird. Very sad and troubling, actually. But at least the government is finally taking UFOs seriously, so we've got that going for us.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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