Old and busted: Russian fake news. New hotness: Brazilian waxed news! [Or maybe not — see update.] What could possibly be a more perfect ending than this to the Covington media pratfall?
Twitter suspended an account on Monday afternoon that helped spread a controversial encounter between a Native American elder and a group of high school students wearing Make America Great Again hats.
The account claimed to belong to a California schoolteacher. Its profile photo was not of a schoolteacher, but of a blogger based in Brazil, CNN Business found. Twitter suspended the account soon after CNN Business asked about it.
Imagine that! All it took was a news outlet asking a few pointed questions about the catalyst of a media frenzy to discover manipulations behind the madness. Those questions might have come in a little more handy a few days ago, but at least they got asked at some point.
This particular account, @2020fight, got started shortly after the 2016 election, CNN reports, supposedly by a “teacher and advocate” in California named Talia. It became highly active this year, tweeting “on average 130 times a day,” according to the report. The user (from wherever) got the video off of Instagram but added his/her inflammatory caption to hike the catalyzing effect of the “fake news” before pushing it hard on a network of anonymous accounts. And … it worked:
Molly McKew, an information warfare researcher who saw the tweet and shared it herself on Saturday, said she later realized that a network of anonymous accounts were working to amplify the video.
Speaking about the nature of fake accounts on social media, McKew told CNN Business, “This is the new landscape: where bad actors monitor us and appropriate content that fits their needs. They know how to get it where they need to go so it amplifies naturally. And at this point, we are all conditioned to react and engage or deny in specific ways. And we all did.”
In other words, we all got gaslighted, as Catholic News Agency’s Kevin Jones realized:
Good heavens, did we just suffer one of the largest collective gaslightings of the new year? https://t.co/c3wg1gQFp2
— Kevin J. Jones (@kevinjjones) January 22, 2019
Perhaps, but that’s not the whole story. It went viral on Twitter, but that didn’t mean that every news outlet (except Fox in this instance) had to pick up the short video and run with it uncritically on the air and in print. A news outlet with layers of fact-checkers and editors should have looked for more video or talked with people involved in the incident before airing the video in the first place and amplifying it into a national news narrative. This didn’t take place in some obscure corner of the world — it happened at a major demonstration in the nation’s capital. There was plenty of opportunity to investigate and fact-check this out-of-context snippet before launching into “evil Catholic teens in racist MAGA hats hate Native Americans” sensationalism and chin-stroking.
At least this time the truth came out, eventually, but only because others with the full incident on video came forward. Ask yourselves this: how many other such stories that went from viral to networks got screwed up in a similar manner? Can we even know the answer to that question? And that’s why few people hold news outlets in high esteem any longer.
Addendum: Attorney Robert Barnes plans to enforce some accountability on the media unless they start retracting their earlier stories about the Covington students:
— Robert Barnes (@Barnes_Law) January 20, 2019
Barnes told PJ Media that he was working with the families to sue the media outlets that defamed them.
He said that “anyone who doesn’t correct and retract” their false smears would be subject to a lawsuit and that updated stories merely indicating “a more complex picture has emerged” would not necessarily be enough.
When asked if such stories would count as a retraction, he replied that it “depends.”
It’s one thing to sue, but it’s another thing to win. One would hope a potential lawsuit would be embarrassing enough under these circumstances that retractions will shortly follow, but then again, one would hope that news outlets would do better than just amplify Twitter trolls in the first place.
Related: Why I no longer engage on Twitter.
Update: Allahpundit pointed out to me that CNN’s article says the photo was from a blogger in Brazil, not the account itself. I’ve changed the headline to reflect that and inserted the referral to this in the opening paragraph, as well as change the only other reference to Brazil later in the post. Hey, who knows? It might still be a Russian troll after all. Or maybe just a good ol’ red-blooded American troll. We’ve got lots of those.