A short adventure in misinformation and bias online

Yesterday I saw a tweet that included a video clip of Donald Trump allegedly calling people animals. The tweet itself read @realDonaldTrump on people asking for asylum “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

The undated video clip from C-SPAN was 47 seconds long, but I didn’t bother to listen to it at the time.

I told my wife later in the evening that the President was saying asylum seekers were not people, but animals.

Later still, I read a rebuttal of the original tweet, retweeted without comment by Denver TV journalist Kyle Clark:

I followed the link to Snopes, determined that I’d been played, and gave my wife an update. My confirmation bias had gotten the better of me.

But the story isn’t over just yet…

My Twitter feed told me which presidential candidate had referenced the misleading tweet: it was U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY):

I don’t actually follow Senator Gillibrand on Twitter, but I follow others who follow her and, well, this is how Twitter works. You follow somebody who follows somebody and the next thing you know you’re being misled.

Thinking that Senator Gillibrand herself might have been misled, I posted a comment:

As of this writing my comment has been liked 60 times, commented upon, and retweeted — entirely by total strangers, mostly Trump enthusiasts, and many Snopes critics.

So far I haven’t seen any correction by the candidate. I have no idea whether the man who started the whole thing knows or cares that his original tweet was seriously misleading.

The takeaways? The adage “consider the source” is especially relevant online, where we often don’t know sources, much less their credentials or motives. I’m also challenged to face my own biases and the human tendency to favor information that supports what I already believe or have heard before.

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