The "fake news" phenomenon that circulated thousands of false stories during the election cycle has become a hotly debated issue since Donald Trump's presidential victory.
Recently, a journalist was on the receiving end of a bizarre call from the FBI about a joke he made on Twitter in reference to the fake news issue.
Nick Baumann wrote a column in The Huffington Post about a couple of jokes he was exchanging on Twitter with a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, Lachlan Markay, a few weeks before the election.
Markay was tweeting about unmistakably fake hacked emails allegedly released by WikiLeaks that mentioned Democratic operative Donna Brazile and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta meeting with George Soros and “rigging” voting machines.
Baumann responded with a joke borrowed from a Twitter user who goes by @randygdub — or “Raandy” — who tweeted that he worked in a post office in Ohio, where he was tearing up Trump voters’ absentee ballots.
i love working at the post office in Columbus, Ohio and ripping up absentee ballots that vote for trump— raandy (@randygdub) October 16, 2016
@lachlan i love my job working at a voting site in washington dc destroying trump ballots— Nick Baumann (@NickBaumann) October 31, 2016
It was an obviously false assertion and one that, “even a cursory investigation or application of common sense would have shown my tweet to be a joke,” he wrote. “It was part of a conversation about fake news. I was a journalist commenting on a news story.”
Needless to say, some conspiracy theorists jumped on the tweet and shared it as fact, with one Twitter user warning him that she had reported Baumann to the FBI and to Project Veritas — a right-wing organization led by James O’Keefe that stages elaborate stings of reporters, liberals and others.
Little did he know, the FBI took the supposed complaint seriously and chose to take the time out to call Baumann to question him about his facetious tweet.
According the Baumann, the FBI agent claimed that “… When we receive complaints, we have to follow them up no matter what."
Having reported on the FBI on multiple occasions, he knew that this was, in fact, not true.
“The FBI, like other law enforcement agencies, decides what it should investigate,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to respond to every complaint."
It’s a disconcerting thought that the FBI would take out the time to investigate a sarcastic tweet, the content of which should easily be understood as a joke.
It’s especially alarming knowing that the federal agency will soon be operating under the presidency of Donald Trump who has repeatedly attacked the media.
Trump's open hostility toward the media, calling them "dishonest" and "liars" has the potential to create a mob mentality, a collective invective against journalists who are perceived as the enemy.
It’s a troubling omen for the kind of treatment journalists might get in the coming months and years.
Banner Photo: Reuters