from the a-case-study dept
Well, this one hits the sweet spot of topics I keep trying to demonstrate: both a Streisand Effect and Masnick’s Impossibility Theorem. As you may have heard, a group of Republican political consultants and strategists, who very much dislike Donald Trump, put together an effort called The Lincoln Project, which is a PAC to campaign against Trump and Trumpian politics. They recently released an anti-Trump campaign ad about his terrible handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, called Mourning in America, which is a reference to Ronald Reagan’s famous Morning in America campaign ad for the 1984 Presidential election. The new ad is, well, pretty powerful:
And while it’s unlikely to convince Trump fans deep into their delusions, it certainly got under the President’s skin. He went on one of his famous late night Twitter temper tantrums about the ad, and later lashed out at the Lincoln Project when talking to reporters. He was super, super mad.
And what did that do? Well, first it got the ad a ton of views. Earlier this week, one of the Lincoln Project’s founders, Rick Wilson, noted that the ad had already received 15 million views across various platforms in the day or so since the ad had been released. Also, it resulted in the Lincoln Project getting a giant boost in funding:
The Lincoln Project, which is run by Republican operatives who oppose President Donald Trump, raised $1 million after the president ripped the group on Twitter this week – marking it the super PAC’s biggest day of fundraising yet.
Reed Galen, a member of the Lincoln Project’s advisory committee, told CNBC that the total came after the president’s Tuesday morning Twitter tirade in reaction to an ad titled “Mourning in America,” which unloads on Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. It recently aired on Fox News, which Trump often watches and praises. Galen said it was the Lincoln Project’s best single-day fundraising haul
Not only that, but it has opened up more opportunity for the Lincoln Project team to get their word out. With so much interest in the ad, it opened up opportunities for the project members to get their message in various mainstream media sources. Reed Galen wrote a piece for NBC:
What we accomplished this week was not something to be celebrated. No commercial should have the power to derail the leader of the free world.
And another Lincoln Project founder, George Conway (who, of course, is the husband of Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway), wrote something similar for the Washington Post:
It may strike you as deranged that a sitting president facing a pandemic has busied himself attacking journalists, political opponents, television news hosts and late-night comedians — even deriding a former president who merely boasted that “the ‘Ratings’ of my News Conferences etc.” were driving “the Lamestream Media . . . CRAZY,” and floated bogus miracle cures, including suggesting that scientists consider injecting humans with household disinfectants such as Clorox.
If so, you’re not alone. Tens of thousands of mental-health professionals, testing the bounds of professional ethics, have warned for years about Trump’s unfitness for office.
Some people listened; many, including myself, did not, until it was too late.
That’s the kind of media exposure you can’t buy, but which you get when you have a President who appears wholly unfamiliar with the Streisand Effect.
And that then takes us to the Impossibility Theorem, regarding the impossibility of doing content moderation at scale well. After Trump’s ongoing tirade, Facebook slapped a “Partly False” warning label on the video when posted on Facebook. While the whole situation is ridiculous, it’s at least mildly amusing, considering how frequently clueless Trumpkins insist that Facebook censors “conservative” (by which they mean Trumpian) viewpoints. Also, somewhat ironic in all of this: the only reason that Facebook now places such fact check labels on things is because anti-Trump people yelled at how Facebook needed to do more fact checking of political content on its site. So, now you get this.
Part of the issue is that Politifact judged one line in the ad as “false.” That line was that Trump “bailed out Wall St. but not Main St.” Politifact says that since the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program has given potentially forgivable loans to some small businesses, and because the bill was done by Congress, not the President, that line is “false.” And yet, because angry (usually anti-Trump) people demanded that Facebook do more useless fact checking, the end result is that the video now gets a “false” label.
Of course, this shows both the impossibility of doing content moderation well and the silliness of betting big on fact checking with a full “true or false” claim. One could argue that that line has misleading elements, but is true in most cases. Tons of small businesses are shuttering. Many businesses have been unable to get PPP loans, and under the current terms of the loans, they’re useless for many (especially if they have no work for people to do, since the loans have to be mostly used on payroll over the next couple months). But does that make the entire ad “false”? Of course not.
And Rick Wilson is super mad about this. He’s right to be mad about Politifact’s designation, though it’s really a condemnation of the religious focus on “true or false” in fact checking, rather than in focusing on what is misleading or not:
But the ad doesn’t actually claim that small businesses received zero help. Rather, it makes the point that Main Street America is still seriously struggling as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues.
But Wilson is also mad at Facebook:
Speaking exclusively to Mediaite, Wilson called the decision “the typical fuckery we’ve come to expect from both the Trump camp and their tame Facebook allies.”
“Facebook is perfectly content to allow content from QAnon lunatics, anti-vaxxers, alt-righters, and every form of Trump/Russian — but I repeat myself — disinformation,” he pointed out. “This is a sign of just how powerfully ‘Mourning In America’ shook Donald Trump and his allies. Their attempt to censor our ad isn’t a setback for us; it’s a declaration of an information war we will win.”
Separately, the Lincoln Project also sent out an email to supporters, again blaming Facebook:
… it’s no secret that Facebook has stood by and done little to nothing as lie after lie — from the Liar-In-Chief himself — runs wild on their platform.
(Oh, and let’s also not forget the conspiracy theories, foreign disinformation campaigns and negligence that got Mark Zuckerberg questioned by the United States Congress.)
But, this? This is an entirely different and dangerous kind of collusion.
And what is Facebook’s excuse for playing favorites with its recently-transferred former employees in the Trump campaign?
They say a “fact-checker” labeled our claim that “Donald Trump helped bailout Wall Street, not Main Street” was untrue.
The email goes on to justify the “main street” line with a bunch of links, and then again argues that Facebook is “censoring the truth” to help Trump:
Is that “Partly False?” Of course not.
We told the truth about Donald Trump…
He lost his damn mind over it on Twitter…
Attacked us in front of Air Force One…
Then sent his spin machine to discredit us…
And now his allies at Facebook are doing his damage control by censoring the truth he doesn’t like.
I get the frustration — and I find it at least a bit ironic that the whole “fact checking” system was a response to anti-Trump folks mad at Facebook for allowing pro-Trump nonsense to spread — but this is just another example of the Impossibility Theorem. There is no “good” solution here. We live in a time where everyone’s trying to discredit everyone they disagree with, and many of these things depend on your perspective or your interpretation of a broad statement, like whether or not Trump is helping “main street.”
We can agree that it’s silly that Facebook has put this label on the video, but also recognize that it’s not “Trump’s allies at Facebook” working to “censor the truth he doesn’t like.” That’s just absurd (especially given the reason the fact checking set up was put together in the first place).
But, hey, outrage and claims of censorship feed into the narrative (and feed into the Streisand Effect), so perhaps it all is just designed to work together.
Filed Under: donald trump, fact checking, fundraising, george conway, impossibility theorem, masnick's impossibility theorem, political ads, reed galen, rick wilson, streisand effect, super pac, temper tantrum
Companies: facebook, lincoln project, politifact