What to do When You Accidentally Share False Info Online
No, Marjorie Taylor Greene was not a contestant on American Idol.
On Sunday, two people sent me a link to a tweet with a quick and simple question: “Is this real?” Both had encountered what was supposedly a clip of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) auditioning for American Idol in 2002 under the name Stephanie Sugarman.
But it wasn’t her.
Even so, the video in the tweet has (as of this writing) been viewed more than 1.3 million times. I don’t want to drive even more views/retweets to the tweet, but if you want to see the clip, you can watch it here.
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Yes, the woman in that clip does look a little like Greene. But that’s about it. In the video, she says she’s a 23-year-old named Stefanie Sugarman from California who works in marketing selling cheese. At the time, Greene was 27, living in Georgia, and working at Taylor Commercial, her father’s contracting company. Nothing about Sugarman’s speech or mannerisms comes even close to Greene’s, but that didn’t stop conspiracy theorists from latching onto this.
QAnon Anonymous (great podcast, btw) co-host Travis View confirmed that Sugarman is a real person. Sugarman has since gotten married and changed her last name (as one does!). About a decade ago, she posted a couple of videos of her singing to a YouTube channel (not that it matters, but her singing improved quite a bit between 2002 and 2012).
While the guy who originally posted the clip would go on to admit he was fooled, he didn’t delete the original tweet. Instead, he posted (separate from the thread with the video), “So the video I posted thinking at first it was MTG, which I found on reddit saying the exact same thing, turned out to not be her and we all found that out very quickly. You guys can stop clutching your pearls over dishonoring your favorite christofascist.”
No, people pointing out that this was false were not somehow defending Greene. Greene is, in my view, one of the worst people on the face of the planet. I do not care about Greene. I care about the increased blurring of facts versus fiction on social media. This makes it harder to know which wild stories are true (yes, Greene harassed school shooting survivors; yes, she spread an antisemitic conspiracy theory about “space lasers” starting forest fires; yes, she says and believes all manner of completely bonkers things), and which ones are false (no, she was not on American Idol).
This was an easy one, as it simply was not the person the original tweet claimed it was. Other times, as I’ve written before, online misinformation takes the form of spin, like when Ron Filipkowski tweeted a 1:25 video that seemed to show Fox News host Jesse Watters instructing a crowd from a stage to “go in for the kill shot” and “ambush” Dr. Anthony Fauci.
As Filipkowski almost certainly knew when he posted that, Watters was talking about “ambush interviews” (Watters’ claim to fame was doing these types of interviews on The O’Reilly Factor back in the day). I think ambush interviews are, generally speaking, pretty gross! But as you can see in the transcript of his comments, Watters was not suggesting anyone physically assault or attack Fauci. Like a game of telephone, people who saw Filipkowski’s tweet began spreading false information that strayed ever further from what Watters actually said. This tweet from Jon Cooper is a great example of that:
Reputable journalists don’t do this kind of dodgy cut-and-paste nonsense because, well, they’re reputable. If a reporter posts misleading information over and over and over again, their reputation will take a hit and they’ll likely lose their job. But that doesn’t really apply to random people on the internet or clout-chasing influencers whose success can be framed in retweets and follows. And when social media companies incentivize this type of content, the type of stuff that strikes people as wild or confirms their worst fears, of course, there will be people who continue to push it.
People post false information all the time by accident. It happens! What matters is what they do next.
What should you do if you accidentally tweet something false? Luckily for you, Twitter has that covered.
Accidentally shared misinfo? It happens. Do this next:
Delete the Tweet.
Post a new Tweet to correct the misinformation and update Followers with accurate details.
Feel empowered to keep the conversation going.
See how easy that was? Just delete, post a new tweet correcting it, and sure, feel free to keep having whatever discussion it was you were having, sans false info.
“Well, shouldn’t Twitter intervene?” some might ask. And the answer is no. Twitter’s policies on manipulated media and false information are extremely limited to a select few topics, and no, the contents of Jesse Watters’s speech at a right-wing conference and the verification of American Idol contestants are not among them.