Democrat Lawmaker Proclaims Article 'Fake News,' Asks Twitter Exec What He's Going to Do About It

By Susan Jones | November 2, 2017 | 10:47am EDT
Executives of Twitter, Facebook and Google testify before the House intelligence committee on Nov. 1, 2017. (Photo: Screen grab/C-SPAN)

( - Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) made himself the arbiter of "fake news" on Wednesday, pointing to an InfoWars article on the New York City terrorist attack and asking a Twitter executive, "what's your responsibility to set the record straight so that the people who saw this know that it's fake news?"

The InfoWars article in question was titled, "Imam: I Warned DeBlasio About NYC Terror; He Was Too Busy Bashing Trump." For a while on Wednesday, that story was trending at the top when Twitter users went to #NYCTerroristAttack.

But is the report fake news? And who gets to decide?

Speaking at the same hearing of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) said, "We all recognize that fake news is in the eye of the beholder many times."


While some news reports "are demonstrably untrue," Stewart said, "the vast majority" of reports are combinations of "opinion and reality."

"And I'll use Mr. Quigley's example," he said -- the story about New York Mayor DeBlasio ignorng an imam's warning because he was "too busy bashing Trump."

Stewart said there's probably an element of reality and opinion in the InfoWars report:

"Perhaps Imam did warn DeBlasio. We don't know that yet. And -- and whether he was too busy criticizing Trump, to some degree, is a matter of opinion. Now, to my friend, Mr. Quigley -- and I don't mean this as a criticism -- I mean, to him that's fake news.

“Someone else read that, and they see legitimate critique in there. How in the world do you -- do you intend to identify fake news without weaponizing this in the political realm? Because, as I said, there is an enormous degree of opinion included in almost every bit of that."

Stewart warned the Twitter executive, "If you're viewed as being political in this -- and it's my fear that you will be, regardless of what you do --if you're viewed as being political, then it's not monitoring fake news, it's weaponizing it and it's editorializing it. Stewart noted that even "fact-checking" can be a matter of opinion.

Sean Edgett, Twitter's acting general counsel, was testifying about Russian interference in the U.S. election before the House intelligence committee along with Facebook and Google executives.

Earlier, Rep. Quigley had pressed Edgett on Twitter's responsibility to "set the record straight so that the people who saw this know that it's fake news."

Edgett said Twitter does not want to be known as a platform for bad user experiences.

The Twitter executive also noted that in the case of the InfoWars story, "the system self-corrected...That shouldn't be the first tweet you see anymore, it should be a USA article, the last time I checked."

Edgett said Twitter wants to be sure that users who click on a hash tag are seeing "verified accounts and accurate information and reporting. Sometimes it doesn't work as we intended. We learn from those mistakes and -- and tweak and -- modulate going forward."

He also noted that Twitter users often flag questionable news reporting.

Edgett said Twitter takes "swift action on illegal content," but when it comes to fake news, he said Twitter is "actively working on how do we balance what -- what is real and fake, and what we do in the aftermath of something being tweeted and retweeted like you -- you said and have people having seen it, and how do we make sure that they're seeing other viewpoints and other facts and other news stories."

And while content coming from spammers or automated malicious accounts is removed as soon as possible, Edgett said Twitter does not have a policy of flagging news it determines to be fake. "We have a policy that that fosters the debate on the (Twitter) platform," he said.

Quigley responded that fake is fake: "If it's just not true and it's wildly obvious, before it goes viral and gets picked up as legitimate, you must...have some responsibility," he told Edgett.

"We are -- we are deeply concerned about that and figuring out ways we can do it with the right balance," Edgett replied.

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