How a misinformed Twitter post the night after the presidential election fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory and became a talking point — even as it was being proved false.
Source: How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study – The New York Times
The Times did a good job here following a false tweet created by a half-assed doofus named Eric Tucker, who seems to have a dim grasp of his moral obligations to society.
Perhaps you balk at my description of him as “half-assed.” Balk no further, because…
Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Tex., had just about 40 Twitter followers. But his recent tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory — one that Mr. Trump joined in promoting.
Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters.
But that didn’t matter.
Didn’t matter because Tucker suddenly got LOADS of followers and LOADS of shares and likes and such and LOADS of ATTENTION. And yeah, Trump picked up this false story and, as he is wont to do, ran his mouth on it, via Twitter.
The part of the story really bugging me to the extreme:
Mr. Tucker said he had performed a Google search to see if any conferences were being held in the area but did not find anything. (The buses were, in fact, hired by a company called Tableau Software, which was holding a conference that drew more than 13,000 people.)
He added, “I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption.”
I bolded that sentence as the alternative to hunting Mr. Tucker down and smacking his face. Because I’m also a very busy businessperson and I don’t have time to hunt lazy brats down for a face-smacking.
OK, so this guy is guilty of failing to get the facts before he publishes falsehoods. Much more impressed with how important he became with his viral tweet than his responsibility to assemble real facts before tweeting.
But no worries. Here’s what Mr. Tucker did to correct himself:
After midnight, Mr. Tucker deleted his original tweet, then posted an image of it stamped with the word “false” for posterity. It did not receive much attention.
Lies, as we’ve all noticed recently, quickly worm their way into gullible brains and, like tapeworms, do not worm their way out when actual facts appear. So what did Mr. Tucker do, other than stamp “false” over the false tweet?
Faced with the impact of his initial tweet, Mr. Tucker, who now has about 960 Twitter followers, allowed himself a moment of reflection.
Ah. He allowed himself a moment of reflection.
“Anytime you see me in the future going out there where I think there’s going to be a big audience, I can assure you I’m going to try my best to be balanced with the facts and be very clear about what is opinion and what is not,” Mr. Tucker said.
He might also learn how to say something without padding it with utterly unnecessary yammer. Guy likes to hear himself talk.
If he could go back, he said, “I might have still tweeted it but very differently. I think it goes without saying I would have tried to make a more objective statement.”
Uh, no Tucker. Don’t “try [your] best to be balanced with the facts”? There was no “balance,” let alone facts to be balanced. Don’t try “to make a more objective statement.” There was no “objective statement” to be made.
You made a false claim and in doing so gave heat to the alt-right victimization claims and libeled the spontaneous protests springing up over the election.
So I’m telling you, Tucker: Just. Don’t. Do. It. Again.
(Was that dripping with enough contempt, do you think? Too much?)
Tomorrow I’m going to tell you how the business of fake news and false “statements” like Mr. Tucker’s originated. Because, unlike Mr. Tucker, I was there at the birth of this particular dirty tricksterism.