Here, in full, is a one-page “newsletter” that was posted to several bulletin boards at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs earlier this week:
Perhaps you have a brain. Perhaps, upon looking at this, you read the words “Social Justice Collective Weekly” and immediately raised an eyebrow. Perhaps you read the introduction and sensed, in its clumsy, on-the-nose use of terms like “allies” and “safe space,” a flaccid attempt at parody. Perhaps you read the article by “Terry Steinawitz”—Terry Steinawitz!—and concluded that its position that veterans should be banned from all four-year universities is not one that any real person would actually hold. Perhaps you know an obvious troll job when you see one.
That would make you a more discerning consumer of information than the professional journalists at the ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates in Colorado Springs, which were among the outlets that picked up the story after it had circulated on conservative blogs and message boards throughout the week. KKTV 11 gave it the full breaking scandal treatment, complete with a live remote shot, interviews with students, and an anchor solemnly assuring viewers that “veterans [are] so important to our community, and our local college campuses, too” before throwing to weather.
It’s no surprise that a hoax like this would go viral in the fetid swamp of right-wing social media, where it only needs to fool the likes of “TheRedchick7” and “Bayou Renaissance Man.” And it’s no surprise that, existing in the perpetual state of vicious howling idiocy that they do, these folks flooded local news stations with demands that they cover this latest bit of campus snowflake SJW degeneracy.
But it’s the responsibility of news organizations to be bulwarks against this sort of hysteria, not indulge and amplify it out of a false sense of balance or fear of being branded part of the fake-news liberal media. The style and content of the flyer should have been enough for any competent journalist to call bullshit here, but even if they weren’t, there’s the fact that no organization by the name of “Social Justice Collective Weekly” is registered with UCCS, that no one by the name of “Terry Steinawitz” is enrolled at the university, and, oh, I don’t know, that “Steinawitz” is not a fucking name at all and very clearly an anti-Semitic gag.
The news coverage forced the university to issue a statement on Friday morning, producing the absurd spectacle of Chancellor Venkat Reddy’s lengthy defense of his students’ right to express an “offensive viewpoint” that none of them had actually expressed, while making sure to affirm that this entirely imaginary opinion is not only “illegal, it is also wrong.” And the life breathed into the story by legitimate news outlets means it’s being shared that much more, including by the Colorado Republican party’s official Twitter account.
Whoever pulled off the hoax got what they were after. On 4chan’s /pol/, the internet’s premier clearinghouse for Nazi trollery, a user posted a picture of the flyer and asked, “Which one of you did this?”
Even by the standards of 4chan’s long and rich history of nihilist pranks, there’s been a surge in these kinds of hoaxes lately, with far-right trolls claiming to represent left-wing groups of varying degrees of fictitiousness and implausibility (and occasionally getting each other so riled up that they accidentally shoot themselves in the leg). As conservative media retreats further and further into its impenetrable epistemic bubble, and the internet’s shit-stirring community of meme-addled Trump fans retreats further up its own ass, this tactic is only going to become more common. Journalists need to get a whole lot better at sussing it out.