The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This is a real news story about fake news stories

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been targets of fake news stories in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. (Left, Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images; right, David Goldman/Associated Press)
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Fake news reports have been a problem throughout the presidential campaign. We’re not talking about reports that are merely flawed or thinly sourced; we’re talking about stuff that is completely made up. The Fix’s Philip Bump wrote in April about a fake news site called Prntly that has routinely duped Donald Trump supporters — and even Trump himself.

Things have only gotten worse in the final weeks of the race. Here are seven totally bogus stories that have popped up online since October.

Donald Trump is dead

As fake news stories go, this is about as brazen as it gets, considering how easily it could be debunked. Undeterred, an NBC News imitation site claimed in October that the Republican presidential nominee had died of an apparent heart attack. Another site made the same false claim in August, launching the hashtag #RIPTrump.

As everyone knows, Trump’s doctor has stated “unequivocally” that his patient “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” So no one should have believed Trump was dead.

Hillary Clinton will be indicted

Many conservative news sites have been hoping to print those words for more than a year. The fake news site WorldPoliticus decided not to wait for reality to catch up to the dream and last week claimed to have the scoop — courtesy of unnamed FBI sources — that Clinton was going to be indicted in connection with using a private email server while she was secretary of state. Tens of thousands of people shared the “news of the millennium” on Facebook.

BuzzFeed reported that WorldPoliticus is just one of more than 100 pro-Trump websites originating from a single town in Macedonia, where online scam artists are pumping out fictional clickbait for the real estate mogul’s followers.

Clinton’s campaign chairman is into the occult

Among the hacked John Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks was one in which Podesta’s brother, an art collector, forwarded an invitation to a “spirit cooking” dinner party hosted by performance artist Marina Abramovic. Podesta appears not to have responded to the message from his brother, and he did not attend the dinner.

Never mind that. Infowars, the site run by 9/11 truther Alex Jones, used the original email to concoct a story last week about how Podesta “is apparently into spooky occult rituals involving menstrual blood and semen.” From there, the Drudge Report ran a banner that declared “Podesta practices occult magic.”

A postal worker in Ohio is destroying absentee ballots cast for Trump

This was a joke. Not a very funny one, perhaps, but no one should have taken it seriously. It came from a Twitter user who frequently makes ridiculous, obviously made-up claims on social media. Claims such as:

Conservative blogger Jim Hoft thought the ballot destruction was real and wrote about it. Drudge picked up the story. So did Rush Limbaugh. The U.S. Postal Service and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ultimately debunked the tweet.

President Obama is thinking about fleeing the country if Trump wins

This was also a joke. It originated on a Canadian satire site called the Burrard Street Journal, which in August published a story that pretended to quote Obama saying a move to Canada is “something Michelle, the kids and I have discussed as a potential solution to the Donald.”

Two months later, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said during a news conference that Trump's campaign rhetoric “raises questions in the minds of many Americans about whether or not he's committed to the kind of inclusive society that are consistent with long-held American values.”

“So he wouldn't move to Canada or New Zealand if Donald Trump is elected?” a reporter replied.

“He's working very hard to make sure that nobody has to move — has to leave the country as a result of an electoral outcome that the president doesn't support,” Earnest answered.

The Daily Mail then used that exchange to report that the White House was refusing to give a straight answer to the “rumor” that Obama might leave the United States. Sean Hannity did the same thing on his radio show. But there was never an actual rumor — just a joke by a Canadian version of the Onion.

Obama unfollowed Clinton on Twitter

After the FBI renewed its investigation of emails that passed through Clinton’s private server, Your News Wire fabricated a report that Michelle Obama had unfollowed the Democratic nominee on Twitter and also deleted supportive messages. That led to additional false claims on the Internet that Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had done the same.

A quick visit to Twitter could have disabused any reader of the notion that three of Clinton’s top surrogates were abandoning her on social media. But the hoax still fooled Hannity, who told radio listeners that the president’s digital cold shoulder “means they know it's huge. You know why? Because Obama's implicated! He's implicated here, and he's pissed. You know what his legacy might be? Jail.”

Hannity later apologized. On Twitter, of course.

An FBI agent investigating Clinton died under suspicious circumstances

A fake news site called the Denver Guardian on Saturday published a fabricated story about an FBI agent who had been found dead, along with his wife, in a Maryland town that does not exist. The story said officials were calling the episode a murder-suicide but floated the idea that “this was another hit job by the Clintons in retaliation for the FBI email leaks so close to the presidential election.”

The campaign is not over yet. Click at your own risk.