Episode 62: Straight From The Horse’s Ass

In the sixty-second episode of The Latest, we lie to you about disinformation. Professional poker player Jim Johnson joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 62: Straight From The Horse’s Ass


Those voices are discussing misinformation, the name of a leading form of misleading information as well as the winner of your local library’s beauty pageant.

As the outgoing administration continues to flood airwaves and screens with vastly distorted versions of reality, viewers across the divide continue to struggle with the same basic question: was Apollo 13 really based on a true story? 

Between the conspiracy theories, the outright lies, and the notifications that nobody’s followed your account for six straight weeks, social networks are continuing to struggle to keep pace with the sheer volume of bad news.

Since early November, YouTube has declined to take action against videos parroting false election claims — telling your audience of millions that Mr. Trump actually won an election he lost is no problem, but if you upload a thirty-second clip of an old episode of “The Steven Weber Show,” it’s three strikes and you’re out. 

Disinformation specialist Steve Bannon has had Facebook pages viewed by millions banned by the social media giant, yet the platform chose not to ban the alcoholic Ben Franklin impersonator after calling for viewers to cut off the head of Dr. Fauci, on the grounds that Mr. Bannon did not “violate certain policies” — beheading someone is one thing, poking someone is another.

And while Twitter has taken one of the more hands-on approaches to cleaning up social media, like the janitor who proactively places a “wet floor” sign near the urinal troughs at a baseball stadium, it’s still only placed misinformation labels on 0.2% of all disputed election-related tweets.

Considering that users send an average of 6000 tweets a second, it’s nice to know that they might have taken a careful look at twelve.

As I’m sure you know, since you’re listening to a podcast that could charitably be described as “Diet Bill Maher,” everyone today lives in own information bubble — we pick and choose media sources like we’re in the bulk candy section. 

But it doesn’t matter whether you hate the licorice and love the Gobstoppers, or you love the jelly nougats and hate the Brach’s royals  — if they’re all that you eat, they’re still to give you diabetes. 

Some people love to blame cable news for this problem, believing the populace to be under the firm control of the cash-for-gold commercial industrial complex, but these networks, on a good night, reach an average total of 7.5 million viewers — less than 2.5% of the country, roughly the same percentage that still considers Nick Nolte to be the sexiest man alive. 

On the other hand, Facebook alone, which should be the company’s catch phrase because it’s how you feel after using it, has over 223 million active monthly users in the USA. 

Last year, Pew found that 55% of adults regularly get their news from social media, but Facebook isn’t like a newspaper; there isn’t any separation between the news sections, the sports, the editorials, and the funny pages — they each show up in your news feed in the same trustworthy manner as that ad for a chair you looked into buying one time nine months ago. 

Now, to me, these social networks aren’t just garbage because  they provide no social benefit — if I wanted to start an argument with someone’s uncle, I’d knock over a shelf of screws at a Home Depot. 

But these web applications are actively polluting what we consume on a daily basis, like a coal plant sending CO2 into the air, a chemical plant dumping lead into the water, McDonald’s re-releasing the McRib. 

And it’s never been more important for people using these platforms to be exposed to information that’s credible and accurate, whether it’s in line with their world view or not.

Like I mentioned last week, it’s not just that people today are denying the reality that Mr. Trump lost an election and seeking sources that confirm their flat-out wrong belief: it’s everything from flat-earthers and QAnon followers to the people watched more than 10 minutes of “Emily in Paris” and determined that it was a good show. 

Nurses and doctors are struggling to deal with patients who have been infected with COVID-19 who believe that they have not been infected with COVID-19 because it’s not real.

When they’re given medicine that alleviates their symptoms, it must be a coincidence. 

And when they get hit with a hospital bill they can’t afford, they don’t pay it because they assumed that the wealthiest country in the history of the world would at least pick up the tab for healthcare. 

In an ad for his new book disguised as in interview in The Atlantic, President Obama noted that our fragmented media ecosystem lacks a “common baseline of fact,” that there’s no single Peter Jennings-type figure who holds enough nationwide credibility for everyone to go, yeah, he’s probably telling the truth.

And because I don’t see Americans gathering around the Vizio to watch David Muir over dinner anytime soon, especially while the algorithm is recommending an autoplaying collection of sports bloopers to pair with your lasagna, we have to demand that social media networks are held to account. 

They surely can’t police themselves — just this afternoon, it was reported that Facebook moderators didn’t even enforce their own rule over removing pages under its “call to arms” policy, allowing a Facebook-hosted event by a right-wing militia to proceed in Kenosha, WI, which led to the death of two protesters.  

Democrats have long been poised to take on big tech when they return to the White House, and while I’ve been encouraged to hear a Biden communications director trash Facebook for “shredding the fabric of our democracy,” uprooting vegetable by vegetable like an old instance of FarmVille, 

I’m worried that multiple former Facebook board members have been chosen as part of the Biden transition team. Can’t you at least wait until the current tenant is evicted and you get the keys to the front door before you let the fox into the hen house?

Russia’s political landscape has long been dominated by the idea that “the truth is unknowable” — the world’s a confusing place, who are we to determine whether or not Katy Perry is actually Jon Benet Ramsey? 

And if we ever hope to bridge the divide in the USA, and get red and blue to speak some semblance of the same language again, maybe we can start to patch things up by agreeing on the one thing, in this day and age, that we actually all know is true: Star Wars is for children.