Credit Chad Bartlett for The New York Times
So what happens when the fake news juggernaut also sweeps up ordinary citizens?
Cecilia Kang saw the fallout up close when she interviewed James Alefantis, owner of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington. Mr. Alefantis and his employees have gotten caught up in a storm of fake news recently. A barrage of false articles on social media and fake news sites said their pizzeria was a front for a child-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John D. Podesta.
The stories — collected under the hashtag #pizzagate — have surprised Mr. Alefantis. He was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and has prominent Democratic friends in Washington, but has never met the former Democratic presidential candidate, nor peddled children nor abused them.
The repercussions have been far-reaching. Mr. Alefantis, his friends and employees are now dealing with a flood of nasty comments on social media, threatening phone calls and even visits to their restaurant from people who say they believe the fake news articles. Mr. Alefantis has gotten in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the local police and many social media companies to try to take down the fake items. He has had little success.
“It’s endless,” Mr. Alefantis said of the strange digital turn his life has taken.