Hillary Clinton, speaking in public Thursday for one of the first times since losing the presidential election a month ago, called the proliferation of fake news “an epidemic.”
So-called fake news – often blatant falsehoods passed off online as the truth and spread by conspiracy theorists – rose to prominence around the 2016 campaign and since Clinton’s defeat millions have read “Pizzagate,” a false report spread online that erroneously accused Clinton and her campaign of running a child sex ring at a pizza shop.
Clinton said the spread of fake news, which has “flooded social media over the past year,” is a trend that “can have real world consequences.”
She made the comments at a portrait unveiling and retirement ceremony for outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Clinton did not mention “Pizzagate,” but her comments appeared to directly reference the fake news story that lead to a man with an assault rifle firing a shot in Comet Ping Pong, the Washington shop that has been falsely accused in the fake news stories.
“This is not 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. “It is a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.”
Clinton backed “bipartisan legislation” that looks to give Congress more power to respond to “foreign propaganda.” an apparent reference to Russia’s role in funding some of the fake news, according to two studies, with the goal of influencing US politics.
“It is imperative that leaders in both the private and pubic sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives,” Clinton said.
Clinton, who has largely remained out of the public light since her defeat, joked about how Thursday’s speech to honor Reid was “not exactly the speech at the capitol I hoped to be giving after the election.”
Since her defeat, Clinton has made only a few speeches, but has more often been seen in and around her home in Chappaqua, New York. A number of New Yorkers have also taken pictures with Clinton in the woods near her home while the former secretary of state has gone hiking.
“After a few weeks of taking selfies in the woods I thought it would be a good idea to come out,” Clinton joked. “And I am very grateful to Harry for inviting me to be part of this celebration.”
Clinton heralded Reid, who is retiring after first being elected in 1986, as a man who never lost his touch with his hard-scrabble home in rural Nevada.
“No matter how high he rose here in Washington,” Clinton said, “he never lost touch with the people and values he grew up with back in Searchlight.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Hillary Clinton spoke with the owner of Comet Ping Pong. They have not spoken.