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Donald J. Trump, Elon Musk
Twitter CEO Elon Musk (left). Former President Donald J. Trump (right). Photo credit: US Air Force / Wikimedia and Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With many so-called journalists amplifying lies instead of providing context, Elon Musk’s anti-elite crusade will have one upside.

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It has been a truly historic week: Former president and current crook Donald Trump has been indicted, and Elon Musk is about to take away the tiny blue checkmark by which a surprisingly large number of people seem to have defined their self-worth.

Obviously, a lot of other stuff has happened, too. Children are starving to death everywhere, desperate refugees are drowning as they seek better lives, one war that people are somewhat paying attention to is being fought in Ukraine while other conflicts are being waged in places most Americans couldn’t find on a map, the environment is being systematically destroyed… and rich people and companies are making a (literal) killing off all of this suffering. But let’s focus on what people really care about: a mentally ill septuagenarian criminal — and how the media still fails to cover him properly.

But before we get to that (and how it relates to Twitter and those checkmarks), let’s just say that it’s nice to see the US joining many of its peers in trying to hold a former leader accountable. 

While GOP lawmakers and right-wing pundits will have you believe that this is the hallmark of Third World countries, it’s actually the opposite: Trump isn’t being dragged to jail; he gets to enjoy due process and the presumption of innocence in a court of law.

What these banana Republicans are suggesting, however, is that the former president should be above the law. Sadly, that has been the case for far too long for him and others who are rich — or pretend to be.

It is especially commendable that Trump was indicted in this case (and hopefully several others that will follow) because trying to hold him to account for his various crimes is not without peril.

But if you are guided by the rule of law, you can’t allow yourself to be intimidated by some orange thug threatening to sic his jackbooted supporters on anybody who dares to defy him.

Predictably, that is what he did. It was always clear that Trump wouldn’t go down without a fight… at least not as long as he could get somebody else to do the fighting for him.

But here is the thing about that (very) thinly veiled threat: It was issued on Trump’s own social media platform, and, let’s face it, the people who signed up for that were already likely to take up arms for their hero.

To really get the word out, the former president had to rely on some of his most reliable supporters: journalists looking for clicks.

Many of the people calling themselves “journalists” seem content to simply serve as a megaphone for anybody willing to talk to them. But every time they do that without providing context, they are failing at their job. Every time they don’t call a lie a lie, they are amplifying it. And by simply repeating a call for violence, they become complicit.

Instead of simply pointing out that Trump was once again inciting violence, and/or providing some context before quoting him, too many of them rushed to Twitter to either screenshot the social media post or simply transcribe it. Thereby, they ensured that the message was amplified.

This is a common problem in today’s media. Many of the people calling themselves “journalists” seem content to simply serve as a megaphone for anybody willing to talk to them.

But every time they do that without providing context, they are failing at their job. Every time they don’t call a lie a lie, they are amplifying it. And by simply repeating a call for violence, they become complicit.

This is the glitch Trump identified and exploited.

He realized that many media outlets and reporters would just hand him that megaphone and let him say whatever he wanted.

It is a lesson that many others have learned since then.

Sadly, it’s been the wrong people. Instead of journalists figuring out (or minding) that they were being used, it’s been politicians who realized they didn’t have to carefully dance around the truth or mince words; they could just lie and deceive with impunity.

To understand how problematic this is, let’s briefly look at what happens to an unchecked lie.

A politician tells a CNN reporter/stenographer that up is down. A couple of minutes later, the reporter tweets: “Rep. XYZ tells me: ‘Up is down.’” That is followed up a couple of hours later by an article on the CNN website. Because the source is a respected journalist (with a blue checkmark to prove it), the original tweet has since been retweeted a few hundred times and, together with the story, seen by thousands of people.

Please Donate to WhoWhatWhyIn this process, the lie has effectively been laundered. It is no longer a lie, it’s “news.”

Because now, it’s not some lawmaker saying that up is down (or that an election was stolen, that teachers are “grooming” children to sexually exploit them but should also be armed, or that climate change is a hoax because it’s cold outside). Now, it’s a “journalist” “reporting” this “story.”

Sure, many people will realize that it’s a lie and that up is, in fact, not down. But there are plenty others who will see this tweet or the story and either have doubts or just believe what they read. After all, why would a news outlet publish something that is false?

Why indeed?

So what does that have to do with Twitter?

According to Musk, Twitter is ending its policy of labeling the accounts of select, authenticated persons of public interest with blue checkmarks. Those who have previously been awarded these digital badges of honor will now have to pay for the privilege.

In general, this is a moronic idea that is going to result in thousands of spoof accounts that will end up doing a lot of harm — just ask Eli Lilly.

It’s also truly ironic that Musk, a beacon of insecurity who spent more than $40 billion to buy himself an audience on Twitter, is now depriving other insecure people of their daily fix of logging onto the platform and seeing that their blue checkmark is still there and they remain important.

However, since that group of people includes a lot of journalists that fall into the “stenographer” category, the great checkmark purge of 2023 also offers a real opportunity.

Instead of taking a cue from Twitter on who is important and which news outlets or reporters they should listen to, users should make that determination for themselves.

There are plenty of informative Twitter accounts out there that don’t just parrot what proven liars have to say but rather provide news and context.

Here are a couple of tips: Don’t follow any account that merely quotes lawmakers. And look beyond your own echo chamber. There are plenty of people “on the other side” who are worth listening to, and being exposed to alternate viewpoints has real value in a deeply divided country. 

Granted, this will take some time — and mental effort, as it requires thinking as you read — but it’s truly worth it for anybody who wants to stay on top of what’s happening in the world without having to sift through a flood of falsehoods.


Author

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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