Two largely unrelated stories clearly have many journalists at both print and cable television outlets seeing red. The social media responses to both the incoming Honduran migrant caravan and the recent spate of non-functional pipe bombs being mailed to prominent Democratic figures are “creating false narratives” and the tech giants who control these platforms aren’t doing enough about it. That attitude is aptly demonstrated by the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell this week. His complaints center on the rumors and speculation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which describe both of these events in ways the Washington Post and CNN clearly disapprove of.
The migrant caravan in Mexico and the attempted mail bombings of major political figures this week have unleashed torrents of false and misleading reports on social media, testing the limits of costly efforts by Silicon Valley to combat disinformation ahead of the 2018 midterm elections…
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have resisted demands to remove some of the viral conspiracy theories and extremist content — a reflection both of the gravity of the task and of their belief that they should not serve as arbiters of truth.
The attempted pipe-bomb attacks, which targeted former president Barack Obama and others who have been critical of President Trump, were almost immediately characterized in widely shared Facebook and Twitter posts as a conspiracy engineered by Democrats to undermine the conservative cause. Michael Flynn Jr., the son of the president’s former national security adviser, said in tweets to his roughly 98,000 followers that the bombs amounted to a “political stunt.” …
The caravan, a potent symbol of the brewing migrant crisis at the U.S. border, was portrayed by some prominent conservative figures as a violent horde mobilized for invasion, including through the sharing of falsely labeled images showing a bloodied Mexican policeman that was in fact taken elsewhere in the country in 2012.
There’s plenty more at the link should you care to read it. The overarching theme here is that the social media giants need to be squashing any stories describing the serial bomber as potentially being some sort of Democratic operative or issuing warnings about the dangers posed by the caravan because they are “creating false narratives.” Of course, for anyone who has been paying attention, what they’re actually upset about is the idea that somebody else is creating a competing narrative to the one they’re trying to sustain. That’s because in both cases we’re talking about situations where there are too many unknowns involved for a factual consensus to be reached at this point. This hasn’t stopped the media from preemptively trying to do just that, however.
Let’s take the serial bomber first. Harwell points out that some on the conservative side of the social media spectrum are at least suggesting – if not outright claiming – that the would-be bomber is a liberal sympathizer trying to tar Republicans as violent anarchists in the closing days of the midterm elections. And just for the record, anyone claiming that as a fact is flatly wrong because we don’t yet know the identity of the perpetrator. But our vaunted corps of journalists don’t know who did it either. Does that stop them from making their own “suggestions” about who is to blame?
Perish the thought. Check out this video, featured by the Free Beacon, of CNN host John King saying that “no one is blaming President Donald Trump for” the unexploded pipe bombs. This is followed mere seconds later by Politico reporter Rachael Bade specifically suggesting Trump is to blame.
I will repeat, we don’t yet know who sent those packages and we may never know if the criminal is clever enough. (Remember how long it took to catch Ted Kaczynski?) But consider the fact that each and every one of the bombs, as per CNN’s own reporting, lacked a triggering mechanism and was unable to be detonated. If all they wanted to do was send a message, why not use soap and make it look like C-4? Somebody was being awfully careful to make sure none of these prominent Democratic targets was actually hurt. Does that mean that it was a false, liberal actor who was responsible? Not at all. But you certainly can’t rule it out. At this point, it makes at least as much sense as blaming Trump’s tweets and rhetoric.
And how about that caravan? Harvell is angry that some on the right have been portraying it as “a violent horde mobilized for invasion.” This is what the media is calling a false narrative. Well, it’s certainly a narrative, but is it false? Read some of the comments from Matthew Continetti on the subject (ironically, for purposes of this article, titled “How to think about the caravan“). While the media wants everyone to look upon each and every one of the migrants as a frightened soul fleeing the awful conditions in Honduras (and they are awful to be sure), Continetti correctly points out that, “an unauthorized march on a border—any border—is a challenge to national sovereignty.”
Again we see two different narratives, each with an element of truth to them, or at least a valid possibility being suggested until more confirmed facts are revealed. So when Harwell and other media figures begin carping about “false narratives” emerging on social media, that’s a disingenuous complaint. What they’re really upset about is that someone else is building a competing narrative which runs contrary to the one they’re trying to peddle.