Yesterday on Twitter, an account calling itself “Far Right Watch” shared this tweet:
At the time of writing, it has 500 RTs and 300 likes. Not mega-viral, but certainly in the high tens of thousands of views.
The problem with the tweet is that it’s utterly false. In fact, it’s from a satirical website called NewsThump which is also carrying the news story “Donald Trump says Rebel Alliance Must Also Carry Blame As Death Star Had All Required Permits”
The tweet was shared without context and clearly, quite a lot of people were taken in:
Some people called this out as Fake News, to which the account replied:
Wait what? No. This is exactly what the left criticises the right for doing.
It’s not good enough to share an article, with context that weaponises a national tragedy, saying “it could have been true” when you are presenting it as though it is true.
If the right turned round and said “Well no, Hillary didn’t hide her emails, but you can’t deny she’s pretty shady, right?”, the left would have fits. And rightly so.
It’s not reasonable to expect that everyone is going to Google for the source, and people are likely to take at face value something that is presented with context from a tragedy like Grenfell.
Right wingers seize on stuff like this to say that people on the left are not held to the same standards they are. And on this evidence, they have a point.
But it’s not just weird Twitter accounts that are at it, either. Take this story, from the Washington Post, headlined “Trump backers’ alarming reliance on hoax and conspiracy theory websites, in 1 chart.” I’ve pasted in the chart below.
At first glance, you would think that the blue to red scale represented some kind of “truthiness” meter, or given the headline, the extent to which they could be considered “hoax and conspiracy” websites.
But that’s not the case. It’d be harsh to call Fox News, Donald Trump’s official website, the Daily Mail (the largest news website in the world) or the New York Post “hoax” websites. Partisan, yes.
And that, in fact, is what the scary red color is. “Red” doesn’t mean “hoax”, it means “right wing.”
So the chart in fact reveals the earth-shattering news that people of a right wing persuasion tend to share right wing articles online. Along with articles from, among others, the Washington Post.
The authors of the study defend, what on the face of it seems indefensible by saying:
While we observe highly partisan and clickbait news sites on both sides of the partisan divide, especially on Facebook, on the right these sites received amplification and legitimation through an attention backbone that tied the most extreme conspiracy sites like Truthfeed, Infowars, through the likes of Gateway Pundit and Conservative Treehouse, to bridging sites like the Daily Caller and Breitbart that legitimated and normalized the paranoid style that came to typify the right-wing ecosystem in the 2016 election. This attention backbone relied heavily on social media.
Which might work, but the “attention backbone” of conspiracy sites rank much lower than “left wing” sites like CNN, Washington Post etc.
Not only that, but the classification itself can also be called into question. “Facebook blog” is apparently on the right wing scale, despite the fact that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg may well be setting himself up for a tilt at the Democratic Presidential nomination next time round.
For comparison, here is the corresponding graph for the left:
And surprise, you see highly partisan news sites on there as well, such as Daily Kos, which Media Bias Fact Check says has a “Mixed” rating for reliability. Hardly a convincing endorsement.
Democrat Twitter had fun with the story, saying that the chart was “scary”
Many people were taken in by the “red is bad” meme:
Social media is a fast and furious place with little time or room for fact checking. But when the left does the things it accuses the right of doing, and demands special dispensation from fact checking on the grounds of “satire”, it does itself no favours.