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Smear campaign against Parkland students deemed Politifact's ‘Lie of the Year'

Posted at 4:08 PM, Dec 11, 2018

Politifact combed through hundreds of lies in 2018 and revealed its "Lie of the Year." This year, the political fact-checking website, picked the online smear campaign against the Parkland students after the deadly school shooting in Florida.

Gina Montalto, 14, was one of the students killed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. For her family, this will be the first Christmas without her.

“It is by far the toughest,” says her father, Tony Montalto. “Gina loved the holiday season. She loved decorating for Christmas.”

Seventeen families lost loved ones in the shooting. But not even a tragedy involving children stopped online trolls from starting conspiracy theories that falsely accused students of being “crisis actors.” Others claimed the teens had secretly organized before the shooting.

“We are not actors,” says Montalto. “We are not politically driven. We’re parents and spouses that lost our loved ones.”

The amount of lies leveled at the Parkland students and their families were enough for Politifact to name the smears as its lie of the year.

“We felt the smears against the Parkland students were so egregious against young people who had done nothing to bring this on that it did bring it to another level,” said Angie Holan, a Politifact editor.

Holan said the smear campaign is a troubling sign of where the country is in these polarizing times.

“If people want to come forward and debate political issues because of something that happened to them in their everyday lives and then they would get smeared – it just seems like something new and disturbing,” said Holan.

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Montalto became the president ofStand with Parkland, a national organization that pushes for laws that address violence in schools. He said it makes him angry and sad that some people think the shooting was fabricated.

“It’s very hard to think that people would believe that this could be a hoax,” he says. “As we experience the tremendous loss, we know the reality of the situation. Every day we walk past an empty bedroom.”

In determining the lie of the year, Holan said she and her team look for the most significant falsehoods and that are politically significant.

In Politifact’s online poll, readers chose a different lie of the year from President Donald Trump.

At a campaign rally back in October, President Trump said, "The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens into our country. And they want to sign them up for free health care, free welfare, free education, and for the right to vote." 

Politifact rated the claim false and called the comments inaccurate and a distortion of the facts.