The Associated Press recently manufactured fake news that at this very moment is still creating brand new hatred and division in our country, thus making for a teachable moment in their refusal to properly retract the headline.
In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Parkland, FL, a story emerged about the shooter being “trained” by a white nationalist group. The story had several holes from the onset, but that didn’t stop once-reputable organizations like the Associated Press from running and promoting it.
It soon became evident that the story was entirely manufactured by the leader of the white nationalist group; an unfortunately successful effort to give the group visibility and attract new recruits.
But even after it was widely known that this alleged “news” was entirely manufactured, the Associated Press refused to properly correct their promotion of the story.
It’s in that moment — in their refusal to properly correct the story — that the AP’s presumably inadvertent fake news, became the AP’s flagrant outright lie.
The tweet below, as of this writing and despite being disproven, is still up…
You’ll notice that it has over 41,000 Retweets and more than 50,000 Likes. That’s almost 100,000 positive engagements from tens of thousands of users. And if the average Twitter user has 707 followers (which they do, per this recent study), then we can estimate conservatively that the AP’s fake news has already been consumed by over 29,000,000 people. That’s nearly 10% of the entire US population!
Over 29,000,000 people.
Because even though it’s been entirely debunked, the fake news is still up. And it’s still generating new Retweets and new Likes. And it’s still spreading to more people who don’t know that it’s fake news, because the Associated Press refuses to properly correct their error.
And this isn’t just any old fake news.
This is the kind of fake news that exacerbates our nation’s most destructive divides and our citizens’ most ferocious responses. This is the kind of fake news that serves as an advertisement for a hate group, elevating the otherwise-marginalized group to national status. This is the kind of fake news that actually creates more hatred, and pain, and even violence.
Nearly a full day after everyone else already knew the story was made up, the AP finally issued a corrected tweet, which you can see below.
As you can see, the correction barely has 10% of the engagement that the still-standing, highly destructive and divisive first headline got.
This is an enormous problem, and it’s one I’ve discussed before in a piece called “MSM Using ‘Fake News’ To Damage POTUS.” In that piece, written just over a year ago, I outline how the media should properly clean up their fake news on social media.
But never in a million years did I think I’d be writing another piece a year later, about the Associated Press no less — the actual arbiters of “How To” in media — committing an even more egregious act of media irresponsibility.
But here we are.
So I’m asking the AP to consider this prescription for cleaning up fake news posts on social media, and to add it to their Stylebook for others to adopt…
Step 1: Take a screenshot of the disproven/inaccurate/”Fake News” tweet.
Step 2: Delete that tweet.
Step 3: Include the screenshot of the deleted tweet (for transparency and accountability) in a new post that includes the correction.
That’s it. It’s very, very simple. But some of the most powerful voices in the media refuse to embrace that most basic practice. And it lends credence to the public’s distrust in the media, and to the notion that many in the media are partisan actors interested only in spreading any news that they think will fit their narrative — regardless of its accuracy or honesty.
If you claim to be a legitimate news organization committed to honesty and accuracy, then it’s not okay to leave disproven headlines out there that will continue to be shared and consumed by your readers. And for the Associated Press to do so, especially given the explosive nature of this particular example, is absolutely unacceptable. As the arbiters of proper procedure in the media, let’s call on the Associated Press to start by cleaning up their own mess in the simple 3 steps described above, and then to add that procedure to their Stylebook so that other organizations can follow the same responsible example.
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