This Week in Misinformation: The Trumpinator, Censorship Is So Jack Dorsey, Kari Lake Desperate
8 December 2022
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Former President Donald Trump came out for shredding the actual Constitution to correct the injustice of his 2020 loss.
It’s not in dispute that Trump called for “terminating” the Constitution’s provisions and other rules that stand in the way of replacing Biden with him or redoing the election that happened two years ago (New York Times, 42.65) in a post to Truth Social. Unless you count his attempt, after coming under fire (The Hill, 43.38) for this spicy take, to walk it back without even deleting it (Politico, 42.79).
His outburst about “unprecedented cures” was apparently triggered by headlines about how Twitter censored the Hunter Biden laptop story in October 2020. The shadow of misinformation hangs over that episode and all that has transpired this week in relation to it (see below), and it’s not clear that the later-reversed content moderation decision cost Trump a significant number of votes. But Trump clearly made up his mind long ago that one reason he lost was that his campaign didn’t benefit as much as it rightfully should have that failed October surprise (@davekarpf via Twitter).
Trump’s histrionics might also have had something to do with the Trump Organization being convicted of financial crimes (CBS News, 46.07), or that the January 6th Committee said it would make criminal referrals (New York Times, 42.65) that might include him, or maybe as well that Special Counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury was reported to have subpoenaed several state officials possibly involved in the scheme to create fake slates of electors for him (Washington Post, 39.79).
The characteristics of Elon Musk’s New Twitter are coming into focus, and from a misinformation point of view it’s not great.
The vibe has shifted notably more toxic on Twitter, where Musk’s pledge to grant “amnesty” has brought back gaggles of QAnon and other far-right accounts (NBC News, 45.37) with all the content you might imagine from them. Contrary to that trend, though, on the other side Musk ultimately did suspend Kanye West from Twitter after he posted a swastika (BBC, 46.15). Paging @BadLegalTakes: Elon said Kanye made him want to punch the rapper in the face and therefore had illegally “incited violence.” Advertisers are either leaving in droves (New York Times, 42.65) or mostly sticking around (Fortune, ), depending on who you ask, but overall the signs point to a degraded information environment that is likely to cause business problems for the platform.
Engagement was probably up this week, though, driven personally by Musk’s hyping of big reveals from the company’s internal documents that he dubbed the “Twitter Files.” Musk farmed the work out to independent journalists (New York Times, 42.65), who by definition don’t have many resources to verify what they are looking at or bandwidth to grasp the full context of the decisions made with respect to the Hunter Biden laptop story (Forbes, 43.33) or when large accounts were deboosted behind the scenes (Fox News, 35.54). He also put public pressure on the reporters, apparently pushing release timetables up at the expense of “fact-checking” (Politico, 42.79). Probably the biggest issue, though, is that Musk immediately jumped to conclusions that weren’t remotely substantiated by the actual reporting (via Twitter) while insisting the whole ordeal was motivated by a desire for transparency, truth, and credibility.
Conservatives by and large have uncritically swallowed all that Musk says the Twitter Files are about, which matched well with their priors about Twitter’s bias (Ben Shapiro), sinister collusion between government and Big Tech (Elise Stefanik), the ongoing treason being committed by Democrats (Catturd), and/or how the 2020 election was rigged against Trump (Kelli Ward). QAnon ate it right up (@reportbywilson via Twitter). Some on the right are even convinced that Musk will be investigated (Jim Jordan)--or suicided (Insider, )--by the regime for his brave and historic stand.
Kari Lake isn’t giving up, and she seems to think her victorious opponent Katie Hobbs might be vulnerable to involvement in the Twitter story.
Here we are again talking about how Kari Lake won’t concede the race for governor that she lost in Arizona last month (Associated Press, 48.80), this time paired with an attack on Governor-Elect Hobbs (Axios, 44.27) for the time in January 2021 when she was Secretary of State and her staffer asked a government body--who then asked Twitter (@AngryFleas via Twitter)--to review a post with disinformation in it. Kind of a mini-Twitter Files!
Next to her failed court case, this appears to be an open attempt by Lake to justify her digging in against Hobbs, whose win has officially been certified (Wall Street Journal, 44.84) and who will therefore be inaugurated come 5 January (KTAR, -).
Perhaps a bit of good news is that some of the less fringe-y Republicans who helped Lake, like Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, are starting to distance themselves from her (WRIC, -) and the election denialism she has made into her political identity.
I’m not grab bag, you’re grab bag: a startup that says it can safeguard the Internet from misinformation and other toxic content secures the support of CIA's venture capital arm; Biden’s administration urges the Supreme Court to narrow Big Tech’s liability shield in a case against Google; Alex Jones, filing bankruptcy, says he might pay less than 1% of the court-ordered damages he owes to the families of school shooting victims; Ali Alexander is out here relaying a message from Kanye about "rewriting" the Constitution; family members of law enforcement officers honored by Congress for January 6th heroism decline to shake hands with the Republican leadership; and Rupert Murdoch is going to be deposed in the $1.6 billion Dominion defamation case against his media property Fox News.
All that, and a lot more, below. This is This Week in Misinformation.