In a tragic traffic accident at the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride march near Fort Lauderdale, a driver lost control of his vehicle and careered into members who were marching. One person was killed and another was hospitalized. This was of course not how social media saw it, as rumors of a terrorist attack rocketed around Twitter, aided in no small part by irresponsible comments from Fort Lauderdale mayor Dean Trantalis.
The mayor claimed on camera that the incident was a ‘terrorist attack against the LGBT community’. He then seemed to hint that the intended target was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: ‘Hardly an accident. It was deliberate, it was premeditated and it was targeted against a specific person. Luckily they missed that person, but unfortunately, they hit two other people.’
Fueled by the mayor’s statement, several activists and journalists on Twitter began to speculate. Once the official statement was released and the mayor had recanted his account, mainstream journalists like New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter turned their ire towards a usual target — Fox News — for simply reporting on comments made about the accident.
Haberman first sniped at Fox for publishing ‘such garbage’ in a since deleted tweet. ‘Politicians say something, reporters cover it. “OUTRAGEOUS,” scream Fox dot com media reporters,’ she then wrote. ‘“media reporters”,’ Stelter replied. Haberman also retweeted Soraya Chemaly, a writer and speaker on Gender Absurdities with a Twitter following of 70,000, who wrote ‘2 hit by a truck aiming for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s car, in person is dead’. Chemaly cited unnamed authorities who had supposedly said that it was a terrorist attack against the LGBT community. This of course went far beyond the simple reporting of facts. Nothing about the tweet which Haberman seemed to endorse with her retweet turned out to be true.
Democratic activists on Twitter also attempted to blame Florida governor Ron DeSantis and the bill he signed into law that protects drivers in altercations with violent rioters. This past April, Vanity Fair writer Bess Levin claimed ‘Florida’s Trump-Loving Governor just made it OK to hit protesters with your car.’ The bill does no such thing. The hashtag #DeathSantis trended without the usual explanation from Twitter’s ‘What’s Happening’ sidebar. How very unlike the app’s staffers to forgo an opportunity to editorialize.
Once again, reporters, journalists and media outlets who are tasked with knowing better fell back on political confirmation bias and employed sloppy guesswork to assume the worst about a traffic accident. This in turn led to more inaccurate reporting in a perfect demonstration of the ‘cool kids’ table’ attitude that permeates much of New York and Beltway media.
Mainstream journalists don’t actually care about the rampant spread of misinformation on social media. They only care about who gets to be the one to spread it.