Why You Shouldn’t Trust Social Media*

Published: February 28, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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Social media and video-sharing sites have become the new weapon of choice by activists. The problem is the lack of responsibility shown by some users and readers of information that is used to exploit fears and biases with false theories and propaganda.

E.g. David Hogg –

The New York Times reports (Feb. 21), “…for a brief time, the No. 1 trending video on YouTube featured David Hogg, a survivor of the massacre last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“The caption claimed, falsely, that Mr. Hogg, 17, was not a student, but an ‘actor.’

“The video, originally posted last August, was a brief local news segment. In it, Mr. Hogg was interviewed by the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles after witnessing a dispute between a lifeguard and a swimmer at Redondo Beach.”

“On Tuesday, a YouTube user who went under the name ‘mike m.’ copied and re-uploaded the video with a new caption: ‘DAVID HOGG THE ACTOR….’

By Wednesday morning, “mike m.” was off and running with the latest conspiracy theory with more than 200,000 views.

“ ‘I had no idea where all the attention was coming from,’ said ‘mike m.’ in an online chat interview with The New York Times. ‘I just noticed it started to take off.’

“Many commenters were confused. ‘Why is this on trending, especially on news? Nothing special,’ wrote one. [Another said] ‘Someone get this kid an Oscar!’ ”

How is it that Hogg happened to be in two news stories from two different parts of the country?

The Wall Street Journal reports (Feb. 21), “Mr. Hogg said he isn’t an actor and confirmed he attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mr. Hogg said he was visiting friends in Los Angeles a few months ago when he was interviewed by a local TV reporter about an incident where his friend was confronted by a lifeguard on Redondo Beach.

“James Gard, a teacher at Stoneham Douglas, confirmed Mr. Hogg is a current student in one of his classes at the school,” The Journal said.

Now you might wonder, who would jump to conclusions without utilizing the most modest degree of due diligence in checking the veracity of the story?

“Donald Trump Jr.” FactCheck writes (Feb. 22), “ ‘liked’ a tweet promoting a story suggesting that one of the students was part of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy. …

“Students who survived the massacre in their Parkland, Florida, high school on Feb. 14 are advocating gun control.

“Conspiracy theorists are undercutting that message by questioning whether some of the students actually attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” FactCheck said.  “They claim the teens are really ‘crisis actors’ paid by liberal activists, that they are part of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy involving CNN and the FBI, or that one of the most outspoken students is actually a 28-year-old man who was arrested in South Carolina.

“Facebook users have flagged as potentially false several variations of stories advancing those claims, and readers have asked us about them, as well. They are not true,” FactCheck concludes.

“ ‘I’m not a crisis actor,’ said Mr. Hogg,” The Times reported, “who had been visiting family and friends when he appeared in the Los Angeles news segment. ‘I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that. I’m not acting on anybody’s behalf.’ ”

YouTube, owned by Google, said in a statement:

“In 2017, we started rolling out changes to better surface authoritative news sources in search results, particularly around breaking news events. We’ve seen improvements, but in some circumstances these changes are not working quickly enough. In addition, last year we updated the application of our harassment policy to include hoax videos that target the victims of these tragedies.”

So who is “mike m.”?

According to The Times, he’s “…a 51-year-old man living in Idaho.

“His uploads included a handful of little-watched videos suggesting he is an avid fan of conspiracies. What inspired him to traffic in an unfounded theory about the Parkland shooting… were posts he had seen on the popular conspiracy site Godlike Productions.”

The Journal adds, “That problem continues, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan group that tracks Russian online disinformation campaigns. The group said it saw an increase in shooting-related hashtags on Twitter from Russian bots in the wake of the Florida school shooting…”

This is why you shouldn’t trust social media or video-sharing sites from which to make judgments or decisions without checking multiple sources.

In my commentaries I research several different sites to learn as much factual information possible. If a reader challenges something I’ve written, I listen and, if necessary, make corrections.

In July 2015, I misrepresented the opinion of a protestor (It’s the Law), regarding a California bill before the legislature requiring all children going to both public and private school to get the required health vaccines before attending. I heard from the mother I had written about and put forth her opinion to correct the record, (It’s the Law, Rebuttal).

As for “mike m.”?

“After YouTube removed the video,” The Times reported, “ ‘mike m.’ said his account had received a ‘strike’ — that is how YouTube warns users that they have broken the site’s rules or violated its guidelines. (Three strikes and you’re out.) ‘I mean, why strike me over a beach confrontation video???’ he said. A second video he had posted about the shooting was gaining popularity Wednesday morning, he said, until it, too, was deleted, and another strike was added to his account.

“Anonymous and remorseless, ‘mike m.’ was undeterred. ‘There is more to this kid than appears on MSM,’ he said, using the common shorthand for ‘mainstream media.’ Asked if he would think twice about posting such videos in the future, he said, ‘No, not at all.’

“He said he was worried about his account getting deleted, adding: “But I am not going to stop.”

And that’s the problem. “mike m.” will find another method, another way to get false information out to anyone who is susceptible to influence.

I’m not opposed to social media. It’s a practical way families and friends can connect. However, it should not be relied upon as a single source of alleged factual information about an individual or issue.*

No matter what part of the political spectrum you favor, facts – real, verifiable facts – are the only way to rationally navigate the swamp of conspiracy theories and propaganda on the internet. “mike m.” may be a 51-year-old man from Idaho, but Russian bots are out there working to spread real fake news for the upcoming election cycle.


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