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This Week in Misinformation: FBI Pwns Leaker, Daily Beast Vectors Disinfo, Elon Goofs NPR
13 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.
Misinformation culture strikes another blow to national security, this time via its influence over the Discord leaker.
Jack Teixeira was arrested by the FBI in Massachusetts for sharing a trove of photographed top secret documents about Ukraine with some gamer teens in a Discord channel (New York Times, 42.26). The young man, who likes to shoot guns in his yard, dabble in conspiracy theories, and yell racial and antisemitic slurs, was identified by Bellingcat (-) based on clues that led them to an Instagram account with definitive proof he took the photos.
It didn’t take long for the leak, which dealt serious and immediate damage to Ukraine’s war effort, and its perpetrator to find support among anti-Ukraine figures on the right like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson, and Jesse Watters.
Authorities will probably be looking further into whether this episode involved Russia, its key beneficiary. Not for nothing, but Microsoft’s president this week said that the company was concerned about Russian agents trying to 'penetrate' gaming communities (Yahoo! Finance) like the one Teixeira was part of.
A reporter at the Daily Beast (35.55), and his editor while we’re at it, did a journalism fail that harmed people in the anti-misinformation community. Notice how the reliability score in parentheses there is pretty low!
The reporter made a lot of mistakes that would have been easy to catch unless you weren’t trying (@conspirator0, who was misrepresented in the article, via Twitter). Like, a lot. Lies, in the name of disinformation research, about people who do actual disinformation research.
Besides what was in the Daily Beast piece itself, the source it primarily cites is a serial fabulist—over on his Substack, because he has been booted from most other sites (@dtrumpjrjunior via Twitter). Just looking at the texts this person sent to the reporter, including conspiracy-tinged insinuations about another Daily Beast journalist and others reporting on misinformation, is a clue as to why basing a whole article around his say-so might be a problem (@dancow via Twitter). If all of that wasn’t enough, the source has also been documented as a participant in the online harassment of several people and as playing a role in the doxxing of a woman that he and others wrongly think is another woman (@rothschildmd via Twitter).
It’s a lot to parse even for those who were familiar with the players going in, but if you want my bottom line: the Daily Beast absolutely needs to delete this article and apologize to the people defamed in it.
Elon Musk is making Twitter an all around not great place with his careless approach to understanding what makes it work.
Twitter applied a “state-affiliated” label to NPR (43.35), and though he copped to not knowing if that was correct (it isn’t), NPR decided to suspend posting on the bird site because the labeling undermined its credibility. PBS (47.01) did the same after its Twitter accounts were tagged with a similar label (CNN, 42.38).
The changes to labeling are likely to mostly benefit autocrats hostile to free press, according to some (Tech Policy Press, -), and other policies like reinstating Vlad Putin (The Telegraph, -) and gutting the teams that pushed back on Russian troll farms (BBC) seem to bear this out.
In a hastily arranged interview with a BBC (46.15) reporter, Musk dished on layoffs, sleeping in the office, and—though he doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem—misinformation on Twitter. The part where the interviewer cites reports that hate speech on the platform is on the rise and he counters by demanding to be provided with examples, though pretty stupid for anyone who chances to look at the aggregated data reported by serious researchers (BBC), was a big hit with his fans.
The grab bag, the absolute grab bag: Brandy Zadrozny finally FOUND TIFFANY DOVER; source says Trump lied about crying Manhattan court employees; Louisville shooting prompts 4chan users to cry “false flag”; Jack Smith is looking at how Trump how Trump fundraised off false election claims; Budweiser losses after trans ad boycott are… exaggerated; an Indonesian “society” is teaching citizens to fact-check; FDA Commissioner says health misinformation is lowering life expectancy in the U.S.; legacy blue checks on Twitter are going away next week, but there's no reason to think that this will fix the misinformation problem; AI-produced propaganda is for real about to wash over us; a journal retracts its questionable study on vaccines that was popular with conspiracy theorists; scenes from the COVID litigation conference; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr is taking his anti-vaccine platform to the Democratic presidential primary; Fox News is in trouble with the Dominion judge for withholding evidence; the Arizona House expels a new member of the Republican majority who brought a conspiracy theorist to speak at a hearing; and one Virginia loses its entire election staff because they were being hounded by “election integrity” harassment.
All that, and a lot more, below. This is This Week in Misinformation.