Misleading stories from sketchy sites are all the rage. Again.
Screenshot via Facebook
The Parkland shooting has proven to be fertile ground for the internet’s bottom feeders. The student activists who emerged after the tragedy have been repeatedly attacked and smeared by trolls, talking heads, and politicians. And if you mosey on over to Facebook, the same story is still playing out more than a month after the February 14 shooting.
On Saturday, CBS News published a segment called 39 Days, in which its journalists “embedded with survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting [to] take viewers inside the creation of a movement as students turn grief into action.” Included in the transcript is this snippet from David Hogg, a student who has become one of the movement’s most prominent faces:
DAVID HOGG: On the day of the shooting, I got my camera and got on my bike and road as fast as I could three miles from my house to the school to get as much video and to get as many interviews as I could because I knew that this could not be another mass shooting.
Several websites, including Big League Politics, Silence is Consent, and American News, zeroed in on Hogg’s quote and used it to claim bullshit on his previous accounts of the shooting. Along with the transcript, they also featured a short video clip of Hogg’s quote. (Big League Politics embedded its own cut of the clip, which is far shorter than the original.)
Hogg was contradicting himself, these stories argued, because his initial account put him in an AP environmental science class when the shooting began. Yet if you watch the CBS News clip in question, Hogg never says he wasn’t at school during the shooting—he simply notes that at some point during the day, he biked from his house to the school with his camera. Indeed, in an earlier interview with Vox, he says that he biked to school “at 6 pm.”
This didn’t stop the story from spreading on Facebook, however. According to data from Facebook’s sharing debugger tool, which tracks the engagement on links, among other things, the Silence is Consent piece has received over 100,000 interactions—likes, shares, and comments—since it was posted yesterday. The piece posted on American News received over 60,000 interactions, while the Big League Politics version got nearly 8,000. Using data from CrowdTangle, which tabulates social media engagement, it’s easy to see how these stories proliferated: They were shared by pages like Being Libtarded, Patton Tank’s American BadAss, and Young Conservatives, which have more than a million followers between them.
According to Spike by Newswhip, a tool similar to CrowdTangle, the Silence is Consent story is the second-most engaged with link on Facebook published in the last 24 hours, racking up nearly 110k interactions so far.
The interesting thing about these posts is that they’re not really peddling outright conspiracy theories, like some of the earlier mud slung at the Parkland teens. They’re taking something that could be seen—very uncharitably, that is—as unclear, and then taking things about 100 steps further. In this case, you might be able to argue that the CBS clip is a little vague—Hogg’s quote is shown somewhat out of context, and it appears that the exact timeline of his day isn’t really discussed. If you were trying to deliberately mislead your audience while still claiming you’re “just asking questions,” these stories are one way to do it. (We’ll note that American News did pin an update to its original story suggesting it may have misinterpreted the clip; Red State, another website that wrote up the story, added its own update that reads more like a retraction.)
Given the amount of conspiratorial garbage that’s come out of the Parkland shooting, however, this is par for the course. It joins a fake photo of Emma González tearing up a copy of the Constitution, which went viral this weekend, along with a bunch of chatter that the activist teens are “crisis actors” who were trained to parrot liberal talking points. Luckily, they’ve been more than capable of defending themselves thus far.
Motherboard has reached out to Facebook for comment, and we’ll update if we hear back.