Social media is a major purveyor of fake news in the era of President Donald Trump. It’s a co-conspirator with the mainstream media in the propagation of rampant disinformation. The shocking debasement of MSM journalism in the United States, with only 5% of the reporting on President Trump considered favorable according to the recent Pew Research Center report, is being complemented, facilitated, and reinforced by the viral mass delivery of fake news via the omnipresent and growing influence of social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Information fakery – disinformation and outright lying – is rampant in social media. Since I started a Twitter account in August 2017, and tweeted links to a number of my articles about cable news and Fox News, I have received many thousands of Twitter notifications – messages, comments, tweets, and retweets – both pro and con about my articles and tweets. Many of the negative ones have been crude and obscene. They are also rife with disinformation.
The most disturbing ones in my view contain misinformation and lies which – due to the viral nature of social media – are easily and instantly propagated around the Internet until they become articles of faith for about half of the population. It’s like the “Big Lie” – the propaganda technique made infamous by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels in World War II – on steroids thanks to the advances in technology and communications since the Nazis plied their evil trade in the 1930s and ‘40s.
One of these insidious big lies has landed in my Twitter notifications scores of times in recent months. Because it alleges that it is based on the results of a court case, it has a patina of credibility. It’s an interesting and representative example of what I am referring to in this article.
Underneath thumbnail photos of Fox News host Sean Hannity and occasional guest Michelle Malkin, with the top of their heads not visible, this is how the text of the tweet reads:
In February 2004, FOX News won a legal appeal that declared that FOX News had no legal obligation to be truthful in its reporting. The court agreed that FOX had indeed been untruthful but ultimately agreed with FOX’s argument that the FCC’s policy against the intentional falsification of the news is not a legal mandate, requirement or regulation and that FOX may falsify news reports.
How’s that? I knew immediately that something was fishy here. The FCC – Federal Communications Commission – is the central government agency that has oversight of and enforcement power over broadcast media – as in individual terrestrial broadcasting stations (radio and TV) and the commercial broadcast networks. It does not have regulatory power or authority over cable television channels including news entities like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, which distribute their programming via cable TV, satellite TV, and the Internet, and not via over the air broadcasting.
It took me about 30 seconds to locate an analysis of this questionable Twitter claim by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact’s Punditfact. The fake Twitter meme about Fox News began in 2014 initially on Facebook, and Punditfact thoroughly investigated it later in 2014 and labeled it “false.”
Punditfact’s deconstruct of the claim is detailed and well-sourced. The full report is available online here and should be read by anyone who is interested in the truth. It is a case history of a lie that started or took root on Facebook and quickly became entrenched in the rest of social media including Twitter, to be recycled ad nauseam. It is now well into its third year of widespread dissemination.
This is the conclusion of Punditfact’s analysis:
The Internet meme claims, “Fox admits they lie” and, under the First Amendment, “have [sic] the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves.”
The claim doesn’t track back to the national cable network most people know. Instead, it’s rooted in a wrongful termination lawsuit between a Tampa Fox affiliate and two reporters. The heart of the suit was whether the Fox affiliate wrongly fired the reporters over a story about a synthetic growth hormone in Florida dairy cattle.
The reporters and the station disagreed about the accuracy of the story.
As part of the lawsuit, lawyers for the station argued that the courts do not have the right to play referee on story decisions – citing the First Amendment.
We found no evidence that the Fox affiliate admitted that it lied about the news it ultimately presented, and we certainly found no evidence that Fox News as a whole admits it lies (in the present tense).
While the Fox affiliate argued that it has the right to present the news as it chooses, it’s quite a leap to suggest Fox as a television corporation defended some right to “distort news reports”– other than in a hypothetical sense to quash a wrongful termination suit.
This meme wasn’t conjured out of thin air, but it’s not accurate. We rate it False.
In all of the times that this fake Twitter meme has been directed at me by progressives and leftists, I have never seen anyone reference Politifact’s unmasking of the disinformation behind it. Finally, on December 28 I linked to the Politifact report in a tweet. I recommend that interested parties with a Twitter account who want to help to clean up the Internet one fake news or social media meme at a time consider retweeting my tweet. For that purpose, the link to my tweet is here.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. A selection of Peter’s recent video Skype interviews on The Hagmann Report is available at his new YouTube playlist “Between the Lines” here. For announcements and links to a wide selection of Peter’s published work, follow him on Twitter @pchowka.