February 21, 2018

Fake News!

That's what Ali Velshi calls, by name, those websites pushing conspiracy theories about survivors of the Florida School Shooting. (And of course Don Junior, who re-tweets that garbage on a regular basis.)


STEPHANIE RUHLE: Out of the tragedy in Parkland, we are now seeing a despicable and ugly part of tragedy. Conspiracy theories. Just like after Sandy Hook and even September 11th. "Truthers," pathetic, are crawling out of the holes with terms like "false flag:, referring to a staged event, and "crisis actors", a term for victims they believe are faking it. This typically is beneath us to even report.

ALI VELSHI. But it's important. It is important right now. Because it's happening in real time. You are seeing the spreading of fake news in real time around a tragedy that I was physically at. By the way, lots of people were at 9/11, but some people don't believe it happened. This is happening in real time.

RUHLE: This tweet calling outspoken student journalist David, a "crisis actor." You know who liked the tweet? The first son, Donald Trump Jr., the President of the United States's son, undermining the credibility and sincerity. A young man and his sister who, by the way, was also at the school, who witnessed what no one should.

VELSHI: Let's talk about this. I think it is really important for people to understand what's actually happening right now after this thing. Let's look at the stories floating around and show you how ridiculous and disrespectful and dangerous they are. The most popular is this, it's showing David Hogg, whom you spoke to the day after the tragedy, one of the most articulate, eloquent --

RUHLE: He also runs the school video team. He does TV news in high school.

VELSHI: Right. He attends that school. That's proven. David speaking after the shooting last week and another one from August of last year, showing him speaking to CBS local stations in Los Angeles. The message trolls are sending ask, how he can be a high school student in both California and Florida. Look at the name banner. He is a witness over here. Taken out of context, this could be misinterpreted. Here is the context.

[video clip] David says his 17-year-old friend put his boogie board on this trash can. When a life guard asked him to do move it, he did. Then the situation took a turn. [David Hogg speaking] "He said, I didn't know it was a crime to put your board on the trash can. Because he just didn't want it to be sandy."

ALI VELSHI: The guy appeared in a news piece. At no point did he say he was a California high school student. The piece didn't say that. He was speaking about a confrontation between his friend and a life guard. Why it was in California? One of the great things about living in America is the ease of movement from one state to another, say for vacation. Southern California, vacation spot for decades. This hasn't stopped this from going viral. This post over here shared to one of our colleague's timelines was shared more than 100,000 times. 110,000 times.


VELSHI: Another one people are particularly susceptible to falling for. This shows a close-up of David speaking, pointing out that he has an earpiece in one ear. The implication is he is being fed lines. Again, it is wrong. The thing they're pointing at here is called an IFB. Anyone in TV knows what it is. I'm wearing one right now, and it is how my producers talk to me.

RUHLE: I interviewed David from a studio in New York City. He was in Parkland, Florida.

VELSHI: He hears you through one of these.

RUHLE: The only way he was able to communicate with me in the television interview was through that device.

VELSHI: That's right.

RUHLE: Pathetic.

VELSHI: Everyone in TV has an IFB. It is how you hear guests who aren't with you on set, or anchors in the studio, like David, you're being interviewed at a different location. On-set guests also wear them so they can hear any other interviews we play or any guests not here. It's usually not noticeable. It is designed not to be noticed. Even if I go like that really-- can't really see it. Not everybody in a studio every day knows what this is. It can be a little mysterious. It's not a conspiracy theory. It's how we hear the producers.

RUHLE: Let's talk about common sense. If you're watching someone do a remote interview from Florida --

VELSHI: How do they hear you?

RUHLE: While the TV anchor is in New York? I have a loud voice, how would they possibly hear me screaming from a New York television studio?

VELSHI: For all that, the president's son liked to call us and other organizations fake news, this is literally fake news. If you see this anywhere, especially articles claiming that these kids are crisis actors, like True Pundit does, it is not true. While these other two, Gateway Pundit, which has credentials to be in the White House briefing room daily, which is amazing, they push conspiracy narratives meant to cast doubt on the legitimacy of what the students are saying. If Donald Trump Jr. Sees this, or you know Donald Trump Jr., please tell him next time to think about hitting the like button, undermining the credibility of children who have just experienced unimaginable horror. A shooting at their school and the death of their friends. Think of this first.

[Video clip of Parkland survivor Sam Fuentes]

You cannot look me in the face and tell me what happened isn't real. You can't tell me in my face that this violence does not occur. Not after you've lost your friends. Not after you've lost people you've known for so long.

VELSHI: She's an actor, too? Punched herself in the face, you think?

RUHLE: Should we apologize that these high school students are articulate, mature and passionate? That's what we want of our young people.

VELSHI: Unbelievable.

RUHLE: Apologies they're not tongue-tied or ignorant?

VELSHI: This is fake news. This is fake news. Do we make mistakes sometimes when we cover things? Absolutely. But falsifying information and spreading it out there to millions of people, that's way, survived the shooting. The black eye and the bullet wounds are real.

RUHLE: Her dear friends who were with her in the class did not.

VELSHI: They died.

RUHLE: They died right next to her. Now, this girl and her classmates have to have their names and their reputations smeared from garbage organizations who want to do nothing but spread lies and hate.

VELSHI: Joining us now is Jonathan Morgan, CEO of New Knowledge, an organization that aims to protect social networks from manipulation. Where do you start with nonsense like this? The instinct for people like us is to say, it's nonsense. Ignore it. But we have seen the number of times it's been retweeted and checked. Donald Trump Jr., the son of the President of the United States, is engaged in this nonsensical fake news spreading.

JONATHAN MORGAN: That's exactly how it works. You have networks of accounts, troll accounts, who will say literally anything to advance their agenda. They'll come up with these ridiculous conspiracy theories, attacking students who were literally in the line of fire. Then to promote their agenda, they'll manufacture crowds, fake conversations, amplify their activity with bot accounts and target these kind of second tier, third tier political figures and pundits, like Donald Trump Jr., to try to get them to pick up on the story and legitimize their narrative. That's why you see organizations like Gateway Pundit and Info Wars promoting this.

RUHLE: Is this not a call for regulation and action? News organizations that have journalistic standards, we can't put out things like that. We wouldn't. We would get in serious trouble for doing this, something like that. While Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg want to say their platforms are about community engagement all day long, they are the platforms most used today to spread news and information. Yet, there is no regulation. They can talk about community engagement and freedom of speech and take no responsibility for hate being spread?

MORGAN: It's a very challenging question. So I think it's very nuanced. I understand why the social media companies are reluctant to take accountability or take ownership of this problem. I think you're right. In fact, they have to. It's their platforms being exploited. If any other company had built a product that was being exploited in this way, to damage the lives of Americans, we would be up in arms and proposing legislation. In the same way a credit card company or a company that loses our personally identifiable information has their system hacked and thousands of credit cards are leaked all over the internet, that type of damage, we hold people accountable...

[Not under Republican rule we don't, Jonathan, not Equifax nor gun manufacturers. -- eds.]

...The fact that social media companies can be exploited in the same way, that their systems can be basically hacked by people who are manipulating the public and spreading propaganda, I think there has to be a discussion of legislation or some real act that the social media companies can demonstrate that they're taking ownership and being transparent about their process for removing this type of content from the platforms.

VELSHI: We were able to find the Russian Twitter troll nonsense here at NBC, which means Twitter was able to find it, obviously. They know where to find it and how to identify garbage. They really do need to get it off the platforms. Thank you very much, Jonathan Morgan.

MORGAN: Thank you for having me.

VELSHI: It is confusing for people who read social media to have to say, that's interesting. Do I believe it or not? This is where we need artificial intelligence and proper algorithms and need the companies to say, "you're reading garbage. Alert. Alert. This is nonsense. It is not corroborated."

RUHLE: Or don't offer up their platforms to those spreading lies and garbage.

VELSHI: Unbelievable. ...

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