Welcome back to Can't Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking back at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
In the same week that saw Bill O'Reilly fired from Fox News, some of the biggest names in badly-sourced, right-wing internet bluster found themselves in personal and professional turmoil too. Coincidentally, (or maybe consequently?) this week's conspiracy theories have been pretty boring. However, an extremely dark, but almost totally apolitical, YouTube debacle is picking up the slack. All in all the third week in April was a dark time for internet misinformation.
I'll start with the big story:
Alex Jones' Says He's Been Doing a Bit All Along
Alex Jones is a Texan, a radio and internet personality, some sort of human/volcano hybrid, and—there can be no doubt—a conspiracy theorist. But this week, he added an annoying wrinkle to the job of summing up his life by having his attorney claim in court that Jones is a performance artist.
Jones's ex-wife Kelly is suing him for custody of their three children, and the custody battle, which went on all week in an Austin courtroom, would be at least a little funny if it weren't so sad. Kelly Jones told the Austin American-Statesman, "He's not a stable person," and that he "wants to break Alec Baldwin's neck," and "wants J-Lo to get raped." And according to author Jon Ronson, who has been tweeting from the courtroom, Alex Jones's psychiatric evaluator recommended a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis. Kelly Jones, it is alleged, also suffers from some form of mental illness.
But does all this mean Alex Jones isn't a conspiracy theorist? By implication, was he just kidding when he—to name one example—promoted the idea that the kids who died in the Sandy Hook massacre were actors planted by the CIA to bolster support for gun control laws?
The staff at Jones' venerable website InfoWars.com have offered up a sort of explanation(?) in the form of a supercut that shows Jones being an actor—because that's a hat that, yes, he clearly sometimes wears. For instance, the video shows him acting in an advertisement. He was also in a couple of Texan movie director Richard Linklater's films along with a handful of InfoWars comedy sketches.
So does his history of occasionally acting prove that it was always just a comedy bit when Jones sat there for years, screaming things into a microphone that have earned him the label "extremist" from the Southern Poverty Law Center? I guess that's for the courts to decide.
What the Hell Is Going on with DaddyOfFive?
This next one isn't easy to write about, because it involves allegations of child abuse—child abuse that is supposedly (fingers crossed!) fake.
On Monday, YouTuber Philip DeFranco released a vlog (above) about a family of YouTubers at a channel called "DaddyOfFive" who make prank videos. DeFranco drew attention to elements within the videos that seemed to go well beyond pranking, and bordered on evidence of child mistreatment.
In DeFranco's first example, the parents in the video screamed horrifying, obviously abusive things at their young son because of a mess he hadn't really made. But don't worry, they were (ostensibly) just kidding. The video begged the question, if they were just kidding, why did their son respond as if his parents' explosive overreaction was normal? DeFranco then took a deep dive, and found videos in which the kids looked like they were being shoved and wounded by their parents—though possibly not on purpose—and then teased until they sobbed on camera, and screamed for all the pranking to stop.
As DeFranco notes, the family's initial response video on YouTube was a justification, not an apology. "A lot of people apparently don't get it. A lot of people don't see the humor in it," the father says. The kids themselves, we're told, sign off on each video, and by implication, they're tough and strong-willed. Needless to say, the family's response left room for a lot of uncomfortable questions about the agency and decision-making competence of children.
When the internet wasn't satisfied with the family's first response, and apparently continued to hound them, they released a second video on Wednesday (which is linked above, but cannot be embedded) claiming that this controversy is tearing their family apart, and saying they need to come clean. Their videos are all fake, they claim. The kids are, they say, actors, hamming it up for the cameras. They apologize to their fans, and tell them they hope they'll stick around.
There's a whole lot to unpack here. All I can say is, if the kids really are actors, great! They are gifted, even superb actors. I very much hope the disturbing videos this family makes are truly fictional, and for now, I'll leave it at that.
Titans of Conspiracy Twitter Are Beefing
Meanwhile, in a twist I don't think anyone expected, seduction guru turned alt-rightster and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich suddenly despises Trump cheerleader and part-time conspiracy theorist Bill Mitchell (that Twitter guy who made a name for himself by accurately predicting the shape and outcome of Trump's rise). The substance of Cernovich's accusation, according to Mitchell, is that Mitchell is on the payroll of a neoconservative think tank, a claim Mitchell vehemently denies
According to the right-wing blogosphere, this is all tied to the new divide between Steve Bannon-style nationalists like Cernovich, and conservatives in more of the George W. Bush mold, like Mitchell.
Wherever this conflict is coming from, it's exactly like a rap beef: the resulting public fight, in which Cernovich attacks Mitchell's appearance, and Mitchell gets really mad, is entertaining, but it's also maybe a little dangerous. After all, in a video from Thursday of last week, Cernovich play-acted as a gangster, implying that someone, somewhere protects him from his enemies. "It doesn't end well, threatening my family's safety," Cernovich said, puffing on a cigar like Suge Knight.
The Latest Google Controversy
I'd be remiss not to mention what conspiracy theorists are promoting this week in terms of scandals. Unfortunately, they're not very salacious.
According to an InfoWars post from Tuesday, Google has been unjustly rating InfoWars as an untrustworthy site. Google has since acknowledged that an outside contractor gave low ratings to InfoWars, but Google has rescinded the move. After all, in Google's view, conspiracy fans are people who click ads, so they are valued users, and those people want InfoWars in their search results, so that's what they should get. Say what you want about InfoWars; it's not spam.
But of course, in 2016, Google began a push to eliminate hate speech from results. A lot of that hate speech comes from people in the alt-right. Naturally, when Mike Cernovich appeared on InfoWars, this was all supposed to be evidence of a malevolent conspiracy between Silicon Valley gazillionaires like Google's Eric Schmidt, and the government globalists they donate money to like Hillary Clinton.
Then on Wednesday, the New York Times tweeted two un-doctored, correctly attributed photos of White House visits by the New England Patriots after winning the Super Bowl. More Patriots were there to see Obama than Trump, and what's meant to be inferred is, ahem: "LOL."
President Trump, a seated president who always gets his panties in a bunch when there's any accusation of low turnout at one of his events, called the photo a lie. According to Cernovich, whose blog posts are now being republished at InfoWars itself, "#PhotoGate is yet another reason no one trusts the fake news media."
The photo is not a lie, but yes, context does rob it of all its lolz. You see, um actually: there were some other staffers there, according to the Patriots' Twitter account, but they weren't in the photo. But, um actually again: according to the Boston Globe, the number of Patriots staffers attending the White House visit declined from 2015 to 2017. But, um actually a third time: the paper goes on to say there are complicated, apolitical reasons why that could reasonably be.
In short: a funny tweet failed to convey nuance! So take that, you goddamn fake news media liars!
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