Monday, February 10, 2020

Ripping reality - disinformation in the age of Trump

Judd Legum (popular.info) starts the week with a public post on the spread of disinformation by right-wing sources. Following are excerpts.

Political disinformation existed long before the rise of Donald Trump and social media. In the 1990s, for example, right-wing operatives pushed the conspiracy theory that Vince Foster, who worked in the Clinton White House, was murdered by the Clintons. Multiple investigations found that Foster, who suffered from depression, committed suicide in July 1993.

But the effort to push the Foster conspiracy theory was slow, complicated, and expensive. It gained prominence with the release of a film, The Clinton Chronicles, in June 1994. It featured the claims of Christopher Ruddy, who latched onto the Foster conspiracy and was hired to investigate it full time by the late Richard Mellon Scaife, a right-wing billionaire who owned the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. (Today, Ruddy is a friend and outside adviser to Trump.) …

Compare the process of spreading disinformation about Foster to what happened to Nancy Pelosi when, at the conclusion of Trump’s State of the Union, she ripped her copy of the speech in two.

Before the night was over, Charlie Kirk, the president of Turning Point USA, tweeted that Pelosi “may have just committed a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071, Section 2071(a)” which is “punishable by up to three years in prison.” The claim has been retweeted over 28,000 times.

Kirk’s claim is completely false. The statute cited by Kirk involves destroying government records “in official repositories like the National Archives or in courts.” Pelosi’s copy of the speech was not a government record; it was her copy. And it was not filed or deposited anywhere. Politifact talked to a number of legal experts, and they were unanimous in their view that Kirk’s claim was wrong.

But that didn’t stop Kirk’s claim — and other disinformation about Pelosi’s conduct — from being repeated by Trump, amplified by major media outlets, and weaponized by social media platforms.

It used to take months and large amounts of money to spread disinformation to thousands of people. Now, disinformation can be disseminated instantly to millions of people for free.

On Saturday night, Fox News took things to another level with the help of Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the top-ranking Republican in the House. McCarthy suggested Pelosi was now a felon and should be investigated by the Justice Department.

MCCARTHY: She’s the custodian of the House official document. If you tear up a House document, that is a statute. You are creating a felony.

JEANINE PIRRO: OK, so you are saying a prosecutor can actually prosecute her for that statutory violation?

MCCARTHY: The AG [Attorney General] should actually give an opinion…you cannot destroy official documents of the House

Kirk’s tweet wasn’t his only attempt to smear Pelosi for ripping a few pieces of paper. His organization also posted a deceptive video on Facebook that made it seem like Pelosi ripped the paper after Trump honored one of the Tuskegee airmen. Actually, Pelosi stood and applauded during that part of the speech.

The video was later posted to Twitter by Trump.

In the case of Foster, right-wing groups needed to pay people to seed disinformation with media organizations and hope that it would trickle down to voters. Now, for relatively little money, the same groups can instantly micro-target disinformation to persuadable voters.

It’s not the 1990s anymore.

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