Well, let us all congratulate mainstream media, shall we? After all, they’ve learned such a lesson about fake news, and what a problem it is, and they reported on it and everything! Goodness, they even wrote non-flattering items about facebook, oh my! All that sudden integrity lasted about a week, as noted by Think Progress:
It lasted about a week. As a story on Friday illustrated, alleged hackers needn’t have much bothered getting out of bed, as the media is still more than equal to the task of spreading fake news on its own. This time it came in the form of a report that CNN had accidentally broadcast 30 minutes of hardcore transgender pornography on Thanksgiving night in place of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”
If you were hoping to concoct a viral hoax, you couldn’t do much better than this one. It had a little bit of everything: sex, a largely disliked subject screwing up in the form of CNN, the delightfully discordant holiday angle, and ready-made punchlines riffing off the title. Add in the fact that it was a slow post-Thanksgiving Friday, with many newsrooms understaffed and weekend editors desperate for something to drive traffic, and it’s easy to see why this particular story spread so quickly to dozens of major news sites throughout the entire world in a matter of hours. But it didn’t make it any less maddening, and downright depressing, to watch as it happened in real time.
The origin of the story was a Boston woman named Rose, who tweeted about the programming mishap with a number of graphic screenshots from her account @solikearose to the popular Boston news and event account @universalhub, who then retweeted it to his 56,000 followers Friday morning. Adding veracity to Rose’s story was the fact that she had been tweeting with RCN, the cable provider in her area, about the problem, although they told her they had not received any other complaints.
When I saw the tweets from @solikearose, I retweeted it myself, because, let’s face it, the idea of a cable news channel accidentally showing pornography is just funny. I planned on writing up a post on the story, and began looking around for more info, but as other news reports of the story started to come in, I realized that all of them were based solely on the tweets of this one woman. Certainly, you would think, if something like this happened on a major channel in a city as big as Boston, more than one person would have seen it, right? In the meantime, I reached out to RCN and CNN and Rose for comment before reporting anything.
Most other sites were not so circumspect. The International Business Times seems to have been the first out of the gate, in a post that remained uncorrected or updated until three days later. From there, The Next Web ushered it along, in a post that was shared over 23,000 times.
Within an hour or two, the scope of the virality vector expanded widely, with The Sun and The Independent in the UK, then Variety copy-and-pasting their own version of the events. Magically, one single Twitter report was transformed into multiple “viewers” in an epidemic that may have affected hundreds of thousands of RCN subscribers in the Boston area!
Next came Maxim and Complex and the New York Post, then Mashable and Yahoo, and a helping hand from The Drudge Report, who tweeted out the Independent’s story. In one interesting twist, the local Fox affiliate in Boston was soon sharing the story of something going on in their own back yard by citing British tabloids. Minutes later Mexican, Canadian, Dutch, and Romanian sites were on board.
You can read about the rest of this sordid affair at Think Progress, who have journalists who do old fashioned things like fact check. I highly recommend that read, because there’s a lot more to this story. All I can do is sit here, rub my eyes, and sigh, because I can’t see how in the hell we’re going to get through the next four years without just saying “yeah, okay, fascism, fine.” Jesus Fuckin’ Wept.