Portrait of a fake news troll and the racist retiree who believes everything he writes

In the Washington Post, Eli Saslow profiles Christopher Blair, a 46-year-old "liberal" hoaxter whose Facebook group, "America’s Last Line of Defense," is full of far-right hoaxes that he creates and then reveals, in order to humiliate the Trumpist "taters" who spread them; and Shirley Chapian, a 76-year-old retiree who believes and repeats all the racist hoaxes Saslow creates and will not disbelieve them, even when Saslow reveals the gag.

Saslow's portraits are full of contradictions: Blair and his friends use the hoaxes to push Trump supporters into making racist statements that violate Facebook's Terms of Service and then get them kicked off (the same tactic the dictator of Cambodia uses to get opposition leaders kicked off the service), and they also get Macedonian hoax-sites shut down for plagiarizing their own hoaxes. But at the same time, they turn a real profit from allowing ads to run against their hoax stories, which are repeatedly labeled "satire" but whose satirical nature is lost on the right-wingers who repeat them.

Chapian is also a complicated figure who once belonged to the National Organization for Women and campaigned for wage equality, but who is so willing and eager to repeat the racist hoaxes that Blair creates that it's obvious where her credibility springs from -- that is, which of her beliefs is being confirmed by Blair. But Chapian is also a tragic figure, someone whose bad decision to retire to Pahrump, NV has taken her far from the movie theaters she loves, and whose obsession with keeping up with all the bad news about the rise of Sharia law and the invading waves of immigrants has supplanted the needlepoint she once found such satisfaction in.

Nuanced as these portraits are, both the protagonists ultimately play as villains. For all Blair's protests about the good he's doing in purging Facebook of racists and Macedonian hoaxters, he's making his living by feeding and amplifying the racism and xenophobia of the "taters" he despises. And for all that Chapian is isolated and confused, her isolation and confusion are magnified by her racist eagerness to believe in the base morals of Muslims, Latinx people, and "leftists."

Now another post arrived in her news feed, from a page called America’s Last Line of Defense, which Chapian had been following for more than a year. It showed a picture of Trump standing at a White House ceremony. Circled in the background were two women, one black and one white.

“President Trump extended an olive branch and invited Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton,” the post read. “They thanked him by giving him ‘the finger’ during the national anthem.”

Chapian looked at the photo and nothing about it surprised her. Of course Trump had invited Clinton and Obama to the White House in a generous act of patriotism. Of course the Democrats — or “Demonrats,” as Chapian sometimes called them — had acted badly and disrespected America. It was the exact same narrative she saw playing out on her screen hundreds of times each day, and this time she decided to click ‘like’ and leave a comment.

“Well, they never did have any class,” she wrote.

‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America [Eli Saslow/Washington Post]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

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