One problem with lies that go viral online is that you can never really undo the damage.
You can scream all you want that something is false, but it never really goes away. If the lie has already taken off, if it has already been shared by thousands of prominent and obscure accounts, you’re never going to unring that bell.
This has been a major problem for the ongoing gun debate, where gun control advocates frequently push bogus information and infuriatingly persistent false narratives. Indeed, it has become shockingly easy for outright lies to infect the conversation, and one of the worst examples took place this week inside the White House — and for once, it wasn’t because of something President Trump said.
Sam Zeif, who survived the shooting spree last week in Parkland, Fla., claimed during a public meeting with the president that a person can buy an AR-15 in just five minutes. In fact, Zeif added, one 20-year-old did exactly that with an expired ID.
But the story to which he referred is a lie, as I explained here in more detail.
The person who supposedly bought a rifle in five minutes, now-22-year-old Cody Davis, admitted in his story that he didn’t finalize the purchase. He didn’t even fill out the paperwork that would have put him through the required background check. His claim that he was “able to buy” an AR-15 in just five minutes with an expired ID is a damn lie.
This isn’t to single out Zeif. In fact, give him a break. He’s not the source of the lie, and it’s a lot of work these days sorting fact from fiction, especially when it comes to the gun debate. Unlike reporters, Zeif doesn’t do this for a living, and he likely has more on his mind than vetting supposedly honest journalists.
The average news consumer expects reporters to be somewhat honest. He expects that they have already done their homework when they say things like the Parkland massacre is the 17th or 18th shooting of its type since Jan. 1 (it’s not). We don’t expect them to lie when they report Florida Gov. Rick Scott was “too busy” to meet anti-gun survivors this week when they showed up at his office (he was out at a funeral and was already scheduled to meet them later that afternoon).
The Zeif incident is especially notable. A lie that was shared by reporters made its way into the White House and right into the heart of an otherwise serious discussion on measures to avoid future shootings.