This Week in Misinformation: Trump's Un-Storm, Flimsy FTX Theory, Newsweek-Iran
17 November 2022
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I have to say, though I’ve said it before: misinformation is THE BEST lens through which to understand news about the world. Remove the garbage cluttering your view, and you can see things clearly for what they are.
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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.
This week was really special because it was a true team operation, with several folks involved that I think improved the quality considerably. My thanks go to Dylan, Stephanie, and Alex for helping this week.
Now, on to our top stories.
He did the thing. But the conspiracy-minded aren’t sure what to think about Trump’s announcement that he will run in 2024.
In terms of misinformation, the things Mr. Trump said to his nationally televised presser from Mar-a-Lago touched on several of the themes and topics we’ve covered before (CNN, 42.34). The speech was about the economy, and foreign policy, and culture war issues more than anything else.
The former president said nothing about the 2020 election, though, which I found odd. Maybe he is treading more carefully after seeing the “thumping” election truthers took in the midterms, as fellow former POTUS Barack Obama put it (CNN, 42.34)? Trump instead spoke about elections in a general way that felt out of character with virtually every other time he speaks or issues a statement, up to and including this very week, and rattles off a litany of specific harms about how “they” had stolen it from him or Kari Lake or whomever.
Trump also read words from his teleprompter that should be understood as a dog whistle to QAnon. A speechwriter probably composed this for him, and I’m not convinced Trump knew what it meant. But he said “anyone who truly seeks to take on this rigged and corrupt system will be faced with a storm of fire that only a few could understand,” a clear reference to the Storm that Q prophesied Trump would usher in--and to the secret knowledge about it that anons prize so highly.
Still, reactions from the conspiracy community were mixed. Some who were sure he was going to announce a quicker return were frustrated at the prospect of an extended two-year wait (VICE, 38.71). Others said the speech was low energy (@nickmartin via Twitter). A good number of big names have, however, already gotten fully on board with Trump 2024 (@PokerPolitics via Twitter). I suspect more will do so as they invent some reason why his 2024 bid is part of the Plan.
It’s been a big week for Web3 and crypto with the collapse of FTX, one of the biggest players in crypto.
As customers deal with the fallout of this exchange’s implosion to the tune of billions of dollars (CNN, 42.34). A lot could be said about the fraud and false pretenses and straight up charlatanism of its charismatic leader that led to this cataclysm (Vox, 40.18). But we will focus on a new theory that has emerged claiming that FTX was a front for the Democratic Party to launder corrupt Ukrainian money to influence U.S. elections.
High-profile voices on the right, including Twitter (and Tesla and SpaceX!) boss Elon Musk (Fortune, 44.49) and others like Congressman Paul Gosar (via Twitter), quickly picked up and riffed on this politically convenient fairy tale. Ousted, one-term Congressional Republican Madison Cawthorn crowned it “the political scandal of the century” (@CawthornforNC via Twitter)--which seems a tad dramatic, in my opinion.
You, esteemed reader, should know that major pieces that would have to be true for this theory to work are not really true at all (Forbes, 43.36). At least one prominent crypto industry figure called this out; the creator of Musk’s beloved Dogecoin said the claims have “no real basis” and that believing in it was “negative brain usage” (@BillyM2k via Twitter). But watch out for it, because it’s everywhere all the same.
Iran’s government is brutal, but thousands of protesters are not about to be executed there despite what you may have heard.
This week, Newsweek (38.41) shocked the world by publishing a claim that the Iranian government had sentenced 15,000 protesters to death. The story picked up steam following an Instagram post based on the Newsweek article and was tweeted (and later deleted) by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among others.
Iran has a long history of human rights abuses, which makes this claim believable for many who see it. We’ve already seen the death sentence for political protests (BBC, 46.15). The kernel of truth to this reporting, too, was that a majority within the Iranian parliament supported a letter (Press TV, -) calling for “severe punishment,” which under Iran’s law would include execution, for the protesters who crossed red lines. But the 15,000 number is actually an UN estimate of people currently detained in the country (CNN, 42.34); it doesn’t seem to have come from the letter or the legislature at all.
Newsweek has retracted its story and offered clarification in response to criticism. Unfortunately, the way sloppy journalism works is that the damage is largely done even when the outlet does the right thing in the end. It is a reminder to us all that we should be especially careful about accepting and amplifying poorly sourced claims that confirm our priors and produce strong emotional reactions.
It wouldn’t be Thursday night without the grab bag: The J6 Committee gets into a tiff with Mike Pence ‘misrepresenting’ its work; election deniers and Q candidates are big-time losers in midterm races across the country, for example Kari Lake will not be governor in Arizona; in Twitter drama, Elon Musk halted his new blue check system when a bunch of account impersonated him and a fake tweet about insulin sparked panic at a pharma company; then tonight, hundreds of Tweeps said no to Musk’s vision of an ‘extremely hardcore’ Twitter 2.0 which could mean severe degradation of the platform; and there are some problems with the scare over a Russian missile allegedly hitting 50 miles inside NATO territory.
All that, and a lot more, below. This is This Week in Misinformation.
[Note: We are taking next week off! Enjoy Thanksgiving, everyone.]