In case you were still skeptical, a recent incident in Washington, D.C., just demonstrated how real the dangers of fake news can be.
A man, identified as 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, was arrested with an assault rifle at a D.C. pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong, after brandishing the gun inside the restaurant crowded with diners.
Welch entered the restaurant and allegedly pointed his weapon in the direction of an employee, who was able to flee and notify police. Meanwhile, patrons inside the building rushed out.
Police lock down Politics and Prose Bookstore in NW DC. searching for something. pic.twitter.com/q3bVxeiMxP— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) December 4, 2016
There was an armed gunman at Comet Pong Pong. All stores on block are on lockdown.— Little Red Fox (@littleredfoxdc) December 4, 2016
There are conflicting accounts whether the suspect fired gunshots or not. However, there were no injuries reported.
The suspect, who hails from Salisbury, North Carolina, admitted he entered the restaurant to “self-investigate” an online conspiracy theory known as "Pizzagate,” according to Washington's Metropolitan Police Department.
"Pizzagate" is the name given to a series of hoax news stories that were pushed by alt-right (aka white supremacist) websites last month. As per “Pizzagate” theories, the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and its owner were involved in a child sex operation — lead by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Despite the owner’s multiple clarifications, the false news continues to circulate on the web and people, such as Welch, continue to believe it. As a result, the pizzeria has been the subject of thousands of death threats.
It is important to mention here that one of the many people who fell for the bogus “Pizzagate” theory was Michael Flynn Jr., son of General Michael Flynn, who is President-elect Donald Trump's potential pick for national security adviser.
“Pizzagate” is the perfect example of the recent fake online news crisis, which many believe contributed in gaining support for Trump during the course of his presidential campaign — especially on Facebook.
A study of more than two weeks of Facebook activity during the presidential race found nearly 38 percent of news shared on some Republican-leaning Facebook pages and 19 percent of news on Democrat-leaning Facebook pages was false.
The facts are even more alarming considering around 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news from social media, with Facebook being the top source.
Fortunately, tech giants like Google and Facebook have finally realized the damage that was done and are reportedly working on a “policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its AdSense advertising network, while Facebook updated its advertising policies.”
However, the D.C. pizzeria episode demonstrated that they need to sort out the fake news problem as quickly as possible because it could have life-threatening consequences.
Welch has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.