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The Great Twitter Propaganda Machine

Twitter can be a great source of information. Or not, depending. As marketers have discovered, it’s wonderful for getting a message out and spread virally, whether it’s true or not. Political operatives have discovered the same thing. In fact, the Twitter API is so robust and friendly that it can become a 24/7 propaganda machine, as I discovered when I stumbled on TweettheWhiteHouse.com. This site asks permission to use members’ Twitter accounts to “spread this message”, effectively converting twitter users into agreeable spammers.

Earlier this week, I received a list of 50 “interpretations” of the House Version of the Health Care Reform Act (AAHCA). I was taken aback by the similarity they had to the talking points I was seeing from right-wing bloggers, politicians, commentators and opinionators. The most recent of these is the erroneous claim that reforms contained in the bill would force seniors to receive end-of-life counseling and sign living wills. The most egregious contention of them all was the claim (most recently echoed, and then walked back by the divinely intellectually dishonest Betsy McGaughey) that there was some sort of mandate for seniors to refuse end-of-life measures, including the suggestion that they would be ‘visited every 5 years’ by government agents.

This list has been circulated widely via email lists, Twitter, message boards, and blog posts. The only problem is that it’s just…wrong. It’s the reason I wrote this post about how to read the bill on US Health Crisis. It’s the reason that I have spent the better part of the past week debunking these things with fact, and it’s the reason that this healthcare reform myths site came into being over the weekend.

The truly pathetic part of the whole farce is that the “official voices” in Congress have adopted this list as their own, using one lie after another to try to scare, confuse and intimidate Americans into losing support for healthcare reform.

Seriously? Yes.

What have you heard on TV this week? Anyone heard the “Democrats and Obama want Grandma to die” lie? It’s been in commercials, and was even repeated by Chris Matthews who swore he’d read the bill and that mandated end-of-life provisions were included. Only, they’re not.

The originator of the lies (@Fleckman on Twitter) did the same thing I did. He read the bill and sent tweets out about what he was reading. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t take the time to consider whether what he sent out was true, related to the text in front of him, or had any basis in fact. Compare his list on HIS SITE with HIS WORDS to mine.

Pathetic. Completely pathetic that lies would get such traction without even so much as a cursory review to see if they are true or not. Make no mistake, they *are* lies. The power and problem with a lie is that if it’s echoed enough, often enough through the chambers it sounds true. Then the lie is repeated in ad buys, and in sound bites on the 6pm news and before long the lie shows up over on a relative’s Facebook updates as a new poll about whether we want Democrats to kill Grandma.

For all of Twitter’s strengths, and there are many, it is still only a platform upon which to stand, shout, speak. It becomes useless if those receiving such information don’t have the internal filters or fortitude to understand or investigate the truth. To see these lies swarm into the mainstream without the benefit of a fact-check or other safeguard really causes me worry for the future of not only the Internet, but the country as well.

A little skepticism goes a long way toward clearing smoke and heat, letting light in.

Updated at 3:35pm PDT to clarify which words belong to Fleckenstein and which were in the email, which paraphrased and cleaned up some of the language.

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