If you don't believe the title, consider that a number of conservatives believed that Laura Bush racked up nearly a million dollars in gambling debt during her international trips as First Lady, and that there was a provision in the stimulus to pay it off.
And that they believed it based on an unsourced, nameless Twitter account.
Back during the debate for HR 1, I was amazed at how easily conservatives were willing to accept and repeat lies about spending in the stimulus package, even after those provisions had been debunked as fabrications. The $30 million for the salt marsh mouse is a perfect example, and Kagro X documented well over a dozen congressmen repeating the lie.
To test the limits of this phenomenon, I started a parody Twitter account last Thursday, which I called "InTheStimulus", where all the tweets took the format "InTheStimulus is $x million for ______". I went through the followers of Republican Twitter feeds and in turn followed them, all the way up to the limit of 2000. From people following me back, I was able to get 500 followers in less than a day, and 1000 by Sunday morning.
You can read through all the retweets and responses by looking at the Twitter search for "InTheStimulus". For the most part, my first couple days of posts were believable, but unsourced lies:
- $3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros.
- $750,000 for an underground tunnel connecting a middle school and high school in North Carolina.
- $4.7 million for a program supplying public television to K-8 classrooms.
- $2.3 million for a museum dedicated to the electric bass guitar.
The responses, as you might imagine, were overwhelmingly positive.
- WilsonHines: #TCOT OMG, look at this: @InTheStimulus - "is $3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros." ....it doesn't get better, either
- itsonlywords: I recommend @InTheStimulus for all those who want to know where their hard-earned dollars are going to be spent. #tcot #ac2c #sgp
- velmaanne: @InTheStimulus thank you for this feed of disconcerting projects - truly sobering to see so much selfishness
- SmartGirlNation: If you have low blood pressure and want to raise it, follow the tweets of @InTheStimulus.
- EricAmerica2009: @inthestimulus true patriotism. Thanks for the digging...
- ReesForCongress: Good grief! RT @InTheStimulus: is $175,000 for a commission to select the national insect of the United States. [note: yes, apparently an actual candidate for Congress]
- The_Great_Gazoo: RT @inthestimulus is $5 million in Mexican jumping ant insurance. <-----you can't make this shtuff up
And one of my favorites:
In my first three days, I made about thirty posts. I got a couple people suggesting that I cite my sources to make the Twitter feed more useful, but only one person actually called me out to say "this is fake". And it was an Obama supporter I had accidentally followed, who promptly blocked me.
On Monday evening, I decided to test the bounds of what would be believed. One of my first "crazy" ones was also my most popular: "$2 million for Shamwows." Any right-minded person would start to have doubts at this point (right?), but the responses:
- carmcarm3: RT @InTheStimulus is $2 million for Shamwows. (Is this for cleaning up all of Obamas BS?)
- cbrowne25: @InTheStimulus That is fantastic. U got a link or page number on that one? They giving out cupons like DTV? Sign me up!
- americanblogstr: @InTheStimulus What are we going to do with $2 mil in Shamwows?
- KatyinIndy: RT @americanblogstr InTheStimulus What are we going to do with $2 mil in Shamwows? #tcot #912 #teaparty #sgp Cleanup the liberal sh#t in DC
- americanblogstr: @InTheStimulus Is $2 mil in ShamWows the new FEMA emergency backup plan for the next Hurricane Katrina?
- PreppyPrincess: @InTheStimulus Okay, this is the worst. Worse than the national insect funding. [note: also something I made up, obviously] Shamwows?
- ScrapDiva: RT @InTheStimulus: is $2 million for Shamwows. <seriously?!>
- jeffl8n: nice, what congress person promised everyone a Shamwow? - RT @InTheStimulus: "is $2 million for Shamwows."
- hanktechentin: It's worse than we thought! RT @InTheStimulus is $2 million for Shamwows. #tcot
A couple others finally called me out on this one. However, the rate of people unfollowing me was slower than those who were adding me. Even now, my number of followers is going up, even with these tweets:
- $473,000 to Fueled by Ramen, record label for such bands as Fall Out Boy.
- $4 million for Obama bobbleheads.
- $104,000 to exhume President Taft.
- $465 million for massive air conditioners to combat global warming.
- $855,000 for the gambling debts Laura Bush incurred on diplomatic trips between 2004-2008.
Conservative anger towards Democrats has really blinded them, to the point of having broken BS detectors. Consider a response to the Laura Bush tweet: "ScrapDiva: RT @InTheStimulus: is $855,000 for the gambling debts Laura Bush incurred on diplomatic trips between 2004-2008. <how is this our problem?>". The twitterer's first instinct isn't to verify that Laura Bush indeed had a gambling problem, since presumably it's a fact she's never heard before. Instead, it's to attack the writers of the stimulus for dumb spending (which it would have been, I agree).
There are a couple lessons I like to draw from this. First, conservative activists are crazy and gullible. But second, be careful of what you read and believe on Twitter. I think some of the leeway granted to InTheStimulus is based on the soundbite nature of the site; people can get away with no citations, which is less likely than with a conventional blog. And be careful, because if I could do InTheStimulus, a conservative could do a Twitter feed tricking us.
In any case, I think it's really funny.
Wow, I wasn't expecting this to get noticed again. The InTheStimulus account doesn't exist any more. After this diary, some conservatives noticed it and spread around the word that it was a hoax. This is a surprisingly level-headed response by one of my followers.
I did change the username, delete all the old posts, and start again with the same followers list with TheAngryRighty - personally, I'm amazed you can do something like that. I haven't touched it in a couple weeks, though.