Monday, November 09, 2020

No, Trump didn't unfollow Netanyahu on Twitter

Social media has been filled with the "news" that Donald Trump unfollowed Bibi Netanyahu on Twitter. Here's one of the tweets that has so far gotten over 9000 "Likes."

It is completely false. Trump never followed too many people, but he followed 50 before election day and still follows 50. Here is proof of the 50 from early Saturday morning, before Bibi's tweet.

There are articles about who Trump follows and Bibi is never mentioned. In fact Trump's account never followed any world leaders, although the White House account would follow some during state visits.

The rumor seemed to start on Sunday - this is the earliest mention I could find on Twitter, and it started getting traction from this tweet

The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site picked up on the fake story, which pushed it even further. 

And practically no one is telling the truth.

Here's the thing about fake news: when it fits people's preconceived notions, no one wants to check whether it is true. This story "feels" right. As the expression goes, it is "too good to check."

And that desire to want to believe something is so overwhelming that even when confronted with the evidence, no one wants to believe that they were wrong. I informed a number of people that the story was false and they either ignored me or felt that it was true enough because that is something Trump would do, so the details aren't so important about whether he actually did.

This is a microcosm of how fake news works. If it fits one's biases, people will believe it. The expression (not by Mark Twain - although everyone wants to believe it is!) that "a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on." remains as true as ever. 

What is scary isn't so much how false rumors start. It is how little interest people have in the truth. And that is what makes it so easy for foreign countries to manipulate public opinion.

Schools really need to teach students how to think critically, especially about things they want to believe. I don't think it is hyperbole to say that the future of the free world depends on it. 

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