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This Week in Misinformation: Carlson Out, Epps (Wants) Out, and Musk Toys with Blue Checks
27 April 2023
Keeping up on misinformation is basically the best thing you can do for your brain. So glad you’re here!
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Reliability scores for media outlets cited in the summary are in parentheses for each, courtesy of the terrific folks at Ad Fontes Media.
Now, on to our top stories.
Conspiracy theorists across America and beyond mourned the deplatforming of Tucker Carlson.
Tucker’s leaving, announced here by Fox News channel (24.83), by all accounts seems to have come on suddenly (New York Times. 42.09). The reasons that caused the breakup (Nieman Lab) are a little unclear still, but we know it wasn’t that Tucker was bad for Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line (ABC News, 46.57); after he left, no small number of Tucker’s viewers jumped over to Fox rival Newsmax (New York Times). His supporters had a lot of theories about what really led to his firing: Tucker had revealed too much for the Deep State’s comfort (he is encouraging this one).; it was because of Ray Epps; or maybe simply that he was close to busting the true truth of January 6th wide open.
The QAnon community had all kinds of feelings about this development (VICE, 39.07), but one that came up a lot was that being fired is the best thing that could happen for people who want the truth about the power elites to come out more fully (@QOrigins via Twitter).
To appreciate the loss felt by proponents of some pretty racist, conspiratorial stuff this week (@QOrigins via Twitter), one has to understand the great extent to which Tucker’s show was the means by which no small number of fringe conspiracy theories (NPR, 43.29) and far-right ideologies (NBC News, 45.08) were laundered and beamed into millions of Americans’ living rooms. The Russian government saw it similarly, with the foreign minister lamenting that free speech and the richness of perspectives in American discourse had suffered (CNN, 42.39).
January 6th alternate reality main character Ray Epps was featured on 60 Minutes.
The interview with the flagship CBS news program was another chance for Mr. Epps to tell his story: he isn't and never has been a federal agent (CBS News, ), and he just wants Tucker Carlson and others to stop destroying his life (Insider, ). He wants to put January 6th behind him, but can’t because of the nonstop conspiracy theories about him and the harassment that follows them (CBS News, 44.09).
I won’t link directly to any of it, but the 60 Minutes segment naturally brought out of the woodwork the many, many people who want others to believe Epps was some kind of mastermind and that January 6th as we know it wouldn’t have happened without him. (I cover more about the Ray Epps belief system and a lot else besides in the Prism Guide to January 6th, so head over and check that out!)
Uncle Elon arbitrarily added blue checks back to large-following Twitter accounts.
Lots of legacy verified accounts that were recently stripped of the once-meaningful badge had it restored again without warning or explanation (BBC, 46.15). Many of these appear to have been removed again as of this writing, but who even knows anymore?
Blue checks were added, then lost again, then added again for some of Twitter’s highest profile accounts, including celebrities who have been dead for some time (Washington Post, 38.07) and a number of news organizations that lost it even before last week (@Shayan86 via Twitter).
More than a few of those affected believed it was Musk messing with them, which he seemed to acknowledge. My guess is he was disappointed in the negligibly low number of legacy blue checks that converted to a Twitter Blue subscription, and the efforts of prominent people to avoid association with what the check mark now means--or outright block every account that still has one (Washington Post).
As for misinformation: some suggested it was a simple matter of the badge being restored to accounts that had 1 million or more followers, but this was quickly debunked in a couple ways (@Shayan86 and @travisbrown via Twitter). The main reason we’re addressing it in this publication, though, is that by playing these games Musk has rendered “verification” useless as a tool to help users know they’re seeing messages from the people and organizations they think they’re seeing messages from (The Verge, 44.19). And that has consequences (New York Times).
Would ya look at that? It’s a grab bag: the Proud Boys blame Trump for what they did on January 6th as a jury begins deliberations on their fate; former VPOTUS Mike Pence testifies at length to the federal Trump grand Jury; Trump names the “Deep State” as a target for his next presidency; Florida’s surgeon general made some very questionable changes to a study on COVID vaccine safety; Facebook’s oversight board calls for an investigation into the amplification of misinformation on the site; the GOP counterprograms Biden’s reelection announcement with a dark, AI-aided ad warning of imagined catastrophe if he gets a second term; the current Biden administration announces it will take new actions to “manage” regional migration, including addressing rampant misinformation in origin countries about U.S. immigration policy and enforcement; a Czech teacher is on trial over alleged Ukraine war misinformation; and misinformation comes to the NFL draft.
All that, and a lot more, below. This is This Week in Misinformation.