Snookered and, as a result, complicit in distributing “fake news” on an issue related to climate change.

Fake news image

I plead guilty.

The phony video of extraordinarily severe weather images reached me by e-mail from, let’s call it, “a trusted source,” in this case a personal friend, and not a “climate person.” The subject line on the e-mail: “Amazing.” (Had only it been “Unbelievable,” perhaps it would have prompted a moment’s pause to reflect.)

Rushed to get to an appointment, I viewed part, not all, of the video before closing it and forwarding it to a number of professional and personal contacts. My friend’s e-mail to me carried the line that National Geographic had spent $1 million for the video. I pointed out in my ill-begotten forward that I had no idea of the legitimacy – nor, it now ends up, the clear “illegitimacy” – of that point. As with the video itself that too wasn’t legitimate. (For those wanting to see the fake news video for themselves, send an e-mail to editor@yaleclimateconnections.org with the words “fake news” in the subject line.)

A 'teachable moment' results from an ill-considered forwarding of a fake-news video. Click To Tweet

That alone should have raised high an eyebrow or two. The absence of other details on the footage – notwithstanding several instances of what appeared to be real TV station call letters – also should have raised doubts.

And toward the end, beyond what I by then had seen, there were the large passenger airliners lifted high off a runway by the fierce winds.

In any event, guilty as charged, snookered, sucker-punched. Whatever, but surely embarrassed.

Within minutes of instinctively hitting the “forward” command, personal doubts developed. Had I acted impulsively? Answer, yes. Should I have taken the time to delve more deeply before forwarding it? Answer, yes. Was I embarrassed? Answer, no doubt.

And it made for a “bad day on the job.”

After the next day confessing to my mistake to those who had the (mis)fortune of receiving my ill-thought-out earlier forwarding of the video, there came some interesting responses from those copied.

“Glad you fessed up,” wrote a respected writer blogging frequently on climate change. “Be skeptical of pretty much every pic/video out there!”

“You’re not alone,” wrote one film maker, with a college professor separately chiming in on what by then was becoming a common theme. “I think we all have done this at least once. No worries.” And a respected meteorologist and blogger writing “It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who’s done this sort of thing. :-)”

“Some good computer graphics,” AKA CGI or computer-generated images, wrote National Academy of Sciences member and geophysicist Mike Wallace, of the University of Washington. “And I think some of the early sequences might have been real, just to suck the viewer in. I was snookered until about halfway through.”

A writer for a leading professional science society wrote that “It’s really an example of how easily fake news can get into the bloodstream of society and that even the savviest amongst us still have a hard time distinguishing it from the real stuff. I think it also shows how much more rampant fake news is with all of the sophisticated tools that are available for those who want to dupe people.”

Scripps Institution of Oceanography emeritus professor Richard Somerville, commented that “most local TV news has a lot of fuzzy out-of-focus amateur video from hand-held cell phones that looks and is clunky. This was much too polished. Also, I thought I should have seen it before if it were real.”

Ever the comforter and teacher, Somerville came across as both in writing:

Don’t feel bad. You were scammed. It’s not a disgrace, and you didn’t hand over your credit card numbers. I do think this could be made part of an educational video. Look at the fake news that the alt-right world is generating now on the Parkland high school shooting survivors. This is an opportunity to educate. You don’t have to be contrite. You just have to tell the world that the camera often lies, that the technological capabilities for making convincing special effects are mind-boggling, and here is an example.

Ahhh. A teachable moment, amidst the dark clouds of having foisted the truly “fake news” video. But the clouds in this experience, and not in the video itself, were real.

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