It is all too common today for almost anyone to tweet something that they’d later regret. For celebrities, athletes and especially politicians the wrong tweet can even derail careers. Now in our especially hyper-polarized world we see many lawmakers taking to social media to make extremely bold – and at times questionable – statements.
Earlier this week a tweet purported to be from Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene certainly fell into the “questionable statement” category, and it quickly made the rounds with some suggesting it could be used as “evidence” that she may have been involved in the “planning” of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol building.
However, Rep. Greene didn’t actually send the tweet.
Fact-checkers from PolitiFact and Lead Stories have reported that a photo of a comment attributed to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was fabricated.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t write or post a tweet about ‘flimsy circumstantial evidence’ related to Jan. 6. It was fabricated,” @PolitiFact tweeted on Thursday evening.
A spokesperson for Greene also clarified that the lawmaker did not make or write the comment related to the Capitol attack, PolitiFact added, noting that the fabricated tweet came days after Rolling Stone had published a story alleging that some Jan. 6 protest organizers had been in communication with members of Congress. Greene has continued to maintain that she has no involvement in the protest planning.
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Making the Rounds
Even as the tweet has been confirmed to be fabricated, it has made the rounds across social media, with screenshots of it being posted to Facebook and other platforms. It had been retweeted on Twitter, and since it first appeared on Wednesday has been widely shared.
Multiple other news outlets have identified it as being fabricated.
“We know that it is fake, and the tweet has been debunked on website after website,” said Matthew Schmidt, Ph.D., coordinator of international affairs at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.
“She has said horrible things in the past, and I believe that could actually hurt our democracy as much as what this tweet claimed she had said,” Schmidt added. “These things aren’t new.”
It is true that throughout much of our nation’s history, allegations have made that cast our lawmakers in a very bad light. Social media on the one hand can make it far easier to spread misinformation and even disinformation to the masses, but the same technology could debunk those falsehoods just as quickly.
“It was much harder in the past to prove a falsehood,” explained Schmidt, who noted that today there are full-time political fact checkers as well as websites that do nothing but fact check such misinformation.
“It is actually easier to post a counter tweet today than respond to such an allegation in the era before social media,” he noted.
Yet, social media remains ripe with fake news and there is no shortage of misinformation/disinformation campaigns beyond fake tweets.
“The biggest danger of spreading deep fake videos on social media is the apparent lack of ability or will at Facebook and other social platforms to curtail the spread of misinformation,” warned technology analyst Charles King of Pund-IT.
“Over the past couple of weeks, internal Facebook documents have shown that the company’s leadership was informed and knew about the negative effects of misinformation about Covid-19, the 2020 election and other issues, yet did little or nothing to stop it,” added King. “While there are certainly significant technological challenges involved in accurately identifying fraudulent photos and videos, the inaction of social media executives is the effective gasoline that can turn a feeble spark into a wildfire.”
What About Elections?
While such fabricated tweets can be quickly addressed, there is still a danger that could occur if this type of misinformation/disinformation were to trend on the eve of an election, especially in a close race.
“That could be a key element where this would be a concern,” said Schmidt. “The time proximity to an election is one factor, but it would also have to target a fairly non-polarizing politician, which someone like Greene is not.”
The biggest concern however could be whether enough people actually do take the time to read beyond the tweets. It is true that PolitiFact, Reuters and a plethora of other sites debunked this tweet – yet as has been seen, people still believe what they want to believe.
“We need people to get their news from sources beyond social media, and I’m a firm believer in the professional press,” said Schmidt. “This is really a call for a well educated citizenry that takes the time to determine what is true or not.”