Hillary Clinton challenged Congress on Thursday to combat fake and misleading news on social media, using a post-election appearance to tackle an issue that gripped her presidential campaign and culminated with a shooting incident Sunday in Northwest Washington.
Without directly citing the shooting at Comet Ping Pong by a man who believed a false online conspiracy related to her campaign, Clinton said the “epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media” presented a danger to both the nation’s politics and the safety of its citizens.
“It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,” Clinton said during an address that was otherwise meant as a tribute to retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).
It was just the second high-profile appearance Clinton has made since conceding the election to President-elect Donald Trump the day after the Nov. 8 election.
In the weeks leading up to and after the elections, social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and others were flooded with articles that looked like real news stories that were sometimes thinly connected to reality and sometimes completely baseless. Many of the stories floated conspiracy theories about Clinton and her family, but one particularly bizarre story came about after the FBI decided to review some new emails from her tenure as secretary of state that were discovered on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who is the estranged husband of one of Clinton’s closest advisers, Huma Abedin.
Those emails were uncovered in a separate FBI investigation into allegations that Weiner had inappropriate, sexually explicit online communications with a minor, but the FBI wanted to review the emails as part of its prior probe of whether Clinton’s email practices exposed classified information.
But far-right online sites began posting stories, with no connection to reality, alleging that Clinton’s campaign was involved in an underage sex ring at Comet Ping Pong, a family-friendly pizza place that is frequented by John Podesta, her campaign chairman. It created a fervor of calls and social-media activism from conservatives, and then on Sunday a North Carolina man entered the pizza place with two guns to conduct a “self investigation,” according to police. The standoff ended without injury, but police said his weapon was discharged inside the restaurant.
On Thursday, Clinton voiced support for some federal legislation to address the “fake news” issue. She did not make clear what legislation could combat the problem, but a Pentagon policy bill that cleared the House and Senate this week included a bipartisan plank that would create a new office in the State Department that would work across multiple agencies to come up with a strategy to counter foreign propaganda efforts.
Some independent researchers have traced the fake news stories back to Russia and other Eastern Europe sites, and during the campaign senior U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Russian entities were behind the successful hacks into the emails of staff at the Democratic National Committee and senior Clinton campaign officials, including Podesta.
Here are Clinton’s full remarks on the fake news issue:
“Let me just mention briefly one threat in particular that should concern all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, especially those who serve in our Congress: the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year. It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities.
“It’s a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly. Bipartisan legislation is making its way through Congress to boost the government’s response to foreign propaganda, and Silicon Valley is starting to grapple with the challenge and threat of fake news. It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives.”