There is very little Combat! blog today, because I am about to get on a plane for the third week in a row. While I submit to the tender mercies of United Airlines, how about you consider that we may have finally broken democracy? Thanks to fake news stories and social-media conspiracy theorists, thousands of people now believe that Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington, DC, is the headquarters of a child sex-trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton. The owner and his staff have been getting death threats, and they’ve seen their children’s pictures used as photos of victims in fabricated stories like Pizzagate: How 4Chan Unconvered the Sick World of Washington’s Occult Elite. Don’t search #pizzagate on Twitter unless you want to lose faith in the American experiment. It’s possible that we have failed to teach millions of people the critical thinking skills necessary to function in civil society. Everyone had to be this dumb in the early 19th century, before the advent of public schools. But could they share their dumb ideas this effectively? Perhaps the analog here is not present citizens:past citizens but present publishers:past publishers. Everyone may have been dumber in the 1830s, but they were not the editors of their own newspapers. O brave new world.
Last night’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was less a war of words than a long disagreement over whether they mean anything. “It’s all words,” Trump said early on. “It’s all sound bites.” He interrupted often, but it was usually just to say “wrong” or “no.” One of Clinton’s claims he so denied was that he had called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to hurt American manufacturing—which of course he had:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
That’s not a screenshot; it’s embedded. The tweet is still up, despite the false and increasingly popular rumor that his campaign deleted it during the debate. Even Chris Hayes of MSNBC bought into it last night, although he apologized this morning. Like all the best hoaxes, this is one we want to believe.
Fred Phelps is dying, to the internet’s unbecoming glee. A Wisconsin woman has created a Facebook page called Fred Phelps Death Watch, which announces that “1 like = 1 death prayer for Fred Phelps!” The exclamation point makes it fun. “Sometimes it’s easier to make light of an ugly situation and to just laugh at everything,” she told USA Today, missing an important aspect of being good-humored: you laugh at bad things that happen to you. The Westboro Baptist Church brings out the worst in everybody. For example, a Twitter account that once belonged to Phelps’s daughter announced over the weekend that the church would protest Phelps’s funeral.
The video above shows a 16-year old woman in London being knocked out by an unknown assailant, ostensibly as part of a new game among teenagers called “knockout.” The way knockout works is you arbitrarily choose a person and try to knock him or her out with one punch. Or the way knockout works is you gather together a bunch of news stories about street violence involving young black men, and you present it as a disturbing trend along the lines of wilding or flash mob robberies. It’s hard to tell.