What can we say about the past seven days? Well, they included Mark Zuckerberg saying “Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” so that’s something. Unemployment in the US is continuing to surge; meanwhile, the White House is breaking with tradition and hiding forecasts that could contradict President Trump’s economic outlook. On the plus side, at least HBO Max arrived intact. But that’s just the beginning. Let’s have a look at everything else that happened online last week.
President Trump’s Tweets, Part 1
What Happened: President Trump spent a while last week tweeting about a decades-old conspiracy theory.
What Really Happened: Last week, the US death toll from Covid-19 passed a staggering 100,000, a figure that only becomes more shocking when you realize that it’s been just four months since the first death in America. Even as former vice president, and current presidential hopeful, Joe Biden released a video in which he talked about the “shared grief” of the nation, his competition for the position—the current President of the United States—made no mention of the grim milestone as it approached, but instead spent a portion of the week talking about a conspiracy theory involving a TV news host.
To be fair, Donald Trump has actually been talking about the baseless theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in the death of Lori Klausutis, a staffer during Scarborough’s time in Congress, for a while now; in fact, he was doing it years ago. It’s not a new idea, and one that’s long been debunked, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from suggesting otherwise. For this latest go-around, the accusations were made via Trump’s Twitter feed across the last week or so.
First off, let’s underscore this one important thing: Despite what the president claims, this isn’t a “cold case,” and it’s also not murder. Lori Klausutis’ 2001 death in is tragic, but it’s not actually a mystery.
Of course, it didn’t escape notice that Twitter wasn’t really the only responsible party here—or, for that matter, even the primarily responsible party.
So, did the president stop?
The Takeaway: And where are the other Republicans during this? Largely silent, with just a couple of exceptions.
President Trump’s Tweets, Part 2
What Happened: If the thought, “Why not fact-check the president on social media?” has ever crossed your mind, last week provided an unexpected answer in the form of two words: “executive order.”
What Really Happened: Speaking of the president’s Twitter usage over the last week—which included a lot of controversial Memorial Day weekend content—it should be noted that a recurring theme has been his distrust of voting by mail, which has been a talking point for some time, despite the fact that Trump himself votes by mail. Then, last week, the following.
Then, in a rare intervention, Twitter decided to do something about Trump’s claims about voting by mail, adding fact check flags to two tweets, citing updated approaches to tweeted inaccuracies as the motivator.
The president did not approve.
These tweets were just the beginning, however; vague threats to “close down” social media became formalized into something potentially more serious as reports starting circulating about an executive order.
While it was more than a little overblown to think that the president really stood a chance of hurting Twitter in the ways in which he is threatening, for multiple reasons—
—the threat of an executive order loomed large … until more details emerged about just what the order would entail.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to be worried about.
This is only the beginning.
The Takeaway: Like we said, this is just the beginning.
President Trump’s Tweets, Part 3
What Happened: President Trump issued a series of tweets about the protests in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in police custody. Twitter responded by flagging one of them for “glorifying violence.”
What Really Happened: First, some backstory. Early last week, a video began circulating showing the death of George Floyd. In the video, Floyd is handcuffed on the ground and a Minneapolis police officer has his knee on the 46-year-old’s neck. Floyd later died in police custody. The officer involved, and three others, were fired, but by Thursday no charges had been filed against them in connection with the incident and protesters were in the streets in several cities, including Minneapolis, calling for justice.
Throughout Thursday night, the protests continued, and several buildings, including a police precinct, were set ablaze.
Then, around 1 am ET, Trump tweeted the following.
See that note on the second tweet? The one about glorifying violence? Yeah, that was new. It also happened a second time when the same messages went out on the White House Twitter feed. In a statement to the Verge, a Twitter spokesperson said, “We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance. As is standard with this notice, engagements with the Tweet will be limited.” Trump responded with much of the same rhetoric he’d used earlier in the week. So did the White House.
The Takeaway: As of this writing, the tweets from Trump and the White House remain up, and remain flagged. On Friday, authorities arrested the Minneapolis cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Do Covid-19 Lockdown Guidelines Apply to Dominic Cummings?
What Happened: Skirting Covid-19 lockdown stipulations is not recommended, unless you’re part of the British government. Just ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings.
What Really Happened: Meanwhile, in the UK, Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s right-hand man got himself into quite a spot of bother last week when it emerged he hadn’t been following the government’s Covid-19 lockdown guidelines. The first part of this story broke a little more than a week ago when it emerged that Dominic Cummings drove some 250 miles during the country’s coronavirus lockdown, which would have been embarrassing enough without last week’s addendum to that news.
Yes, Cummings—a political strategist who worked as the director of Vote Leave during the Brexit campaign before becoming the chief advisor to Johnson last summer—had twice broken guidelines restricting movement designed by his own colleagues to keep the UK safe from transmission of the coronavirus, a revelation made even more damning by the fact that he actually had the virus at the time. Initially, the government’s response was to simply deny the claims—
—which was a problem for the police force, it turned out.
Multiple MPs spoke out in condemnation of Cummings, suggesting that there was only one course of action for him: an apology, followed by a resignation.
As of this writing, Cummings still has his job, with his party, the Conservative party, continuing to stand behind him and defend his actions. Many are wondering why, especially as Cummings was never actually elected to his position.
The Takeaway: Midweek last week, Johnson appeared before a committee to talk about the government’s response to Covid-19, and, unsurprisingly, there was a lot of conversation about Dominic Cummings. It kind of summed a lot of things up.
White Woman Calls Cops on Black Man Asking Her to Follow Dog-Leashing Rules
What Happened: A woman called the police after a man in Central Park asked her to put her dog on a leash, something that’s required in the part of the park where they were walking.
What Really Happened: It all started Monday morning in the area of New York’s Central Park known as the Ramble.
As is the way on the internet, both parties involved in the situation were quickly identified. The woman in question is Amy Cooper, who responded to the story going wide with a press release apology. The man she was threatening was Christian Cooper (no relation), an avid bird-watcher and former comic-book writer who made Star Trek history. Regardless, her reaction was unnecessary.
Sorry; former employer. And for those worried about the dog in the video…
As she faced the results of her actions, Cooper publicly complained that her “life is being destroyed” because of the response to what she did, which is potentially the most insensitive choice of words in a week where George Floyd’s life was literally destroyed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
For those thinking that Amy Cooper got what she deserved, some pointed out the larger ecosystem such stories exist in these days.
The Takeaway: The true takeaway is that the conversation about what happened in the Ramble is ongoing, not over. But there is one other thing that came out of all of this. A bird-watching show that once featured Christian Cooper called Birds of North America attracted some new, enthusiastic fans.
A New Taylor Swift Mystery, Solved
What Happened: Revenge is a dish best served re-recorded under a fake name, and then teased out online by an excitable fanbase, if Taylor Swift’s latest exploits are anything to go by.
What Really Happened: Let’s bring things to a close with a longtime While You Were Offline favorite, and an example of the internet operating as a finely tuned detective machine. Taylor Swift, for it is she, shared this last weekend.
On the face of it, it seems innocuous enough: Who doesn’t like Killing Eve? Who doesn’t like Taylor Swift? (OK, that last one might be easier to answer, admittedly.) But there was a hidden mystery to be uncovered, as it turned out.
We’re getting away from the central mystery, though. OK, so Taylor Swift produced the track, but who performed on it? Who or what is “the Dolphin Club”? Don’t worry; the internet was on that, too.
If you’re wondering who Jack Leopard is, the answer is surprisingly far more straightforward than it seems: Taylor’s co-writer on “Look What You Made Me Do,” and a reference to the original single’s video.
It … all kind of makes sense? The “why” of it all might seem a bit obscure until you remember that Swift has blocked TV and movie use of her material because she doesn’t own the master recordings; they were acquired by Scooter Braun, her longtime nemesis, last year. But re-recordings of her material? That’s a different story.
The Swift fanbase’s swift (sorry) unraveling of this mystery was picked up and picked over by mainstream media, as is the nature of such things, and should stand as a reminder not only of why you don’t screw with Swifties, but also of the power of the internet when it wants to get to the bottom of things. Lord help us if that’s ever actually harnessed for something useful.
The Takeaway: Here’s to internet fandom, as fickle, excited, and ready to stan as it can be.
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