Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Case Study of a Viral Fake News Story

Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times:

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.

Mainstream media outlets — yes, that includes Fox — asked the bus company for comment and didn’t publish the story when they realized it wasn’t true. Meanwhile, dozens of rags and partisan Facebook pages didn’t bother to fact-check it and decided to post it, assuming that Tucker had looked into it. He hadn’t:

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.)

“I did think in the back of my mind there could be other explanations, but it just didn’t seem plausible,” he said in an interview, noting that he had posted as a “private citizen who had a tiny Twitter following.”

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.”

There is no logical bridge between I see buses and they must be full of fake protestors, but that didn’t stop Tucker from stating it as fact. Nor, it seems, did anyone at any of these partisan sources question its plausibility or reach out to the bussing company. That’s callous at best, and dangerous to democracy at worst.