The following editorial appeared in The (Mankato, Minnesota) Free Press, a CNHI newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat
The evidence continues to build that social media tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter are being used by the evil and the ignorant to spread lies that erode our social fabric and civic society.
The latest damning analysis comes from an Associated Press report that shows how trolls and bots use the tech giants to spread lies about a number of recent mass shootings and their connections to political figures.
The leaders at Facebook and Twitter barely take notice.
A “bot acting” Twitter account took to the web recently spreading a lie that the person who went on a shooting rampage killing seven people in Odessa, Texas, was a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Completely false.
The post stated: “The Odessa Shooter’s name is Seth Ator, a Democrat Socialist who had a Beto sticker on his truck.”
Again. Completely false.
But here’s the problem. The Tweet spread and was even retweeted as legitimate by people such as Anthony Shaffer, a member of President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign advisory board and a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer.
Shaffer tweeted: “It sounds again like the ‘system’ failed – Seth Ator had a criminal record and was a @BetoORourke supporter ... this supports my belief that Progressives should be prohibited from owning or having access to weapons – they clearly cannot be trusted with this responsibility.”
It was retweeted by thousands more and shared on Facebook. It became so popular it became the second highest search query on the web related to O’Rourke.
What did Twitter do? The company took down the account temporarily but then reinstated it. Facebook did nothing.
Other users took an O’Rourke bumper sticker and posted it on Facebook saying it was on the shooter’s truck. Again, completely false but spread as “news” to the masses.
Campaigns are almost powerless to stop the spread of such rumors and it is incumbent on the tech giants to aggressively police their content for the falsehood and lies they are complicit in spreading.
The upcoming presidential campaign will be rife with these kinds of attempts to spread misinformation and outright lies.
Social media tech giants have become the messenger and they need to take responsibility for the false messages they are spreading.