CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota sat down with a group of Donald Trump backers on Thursday morning to talk about the 2016 election and the false allegations — made by the president-elect — that "millions of people," presumably noncitizens, had "voted illegally" on Nov. 8.
"You need to be legal not like California where 3 million illegals voted," insists a woman named Paula. When pressed about where she got that piece of (false) information, Paula responds: "From the media.... Some of it was CNN.... It was coming all across the media." Er, no. Not the mainstream media, at least.
The conversation moves on. And Paula and another woman insist that President Obama told illegal immigrants that they could vote. Asked where they heard that, a woman in the back row says, "Google it.... You can find it on Facebook."
If you do Google it, as Camerota does in the clip, what you quickly find is this video — in which Obama is talking to actress Gina Rodriguez about voting:
That clip — as you've probably already guessed — isn't the entirety of Obama's comments on the subject. It was edited.
Here's the part that's left out, courtesy of Snopes:
RODRIGUEZ: This has been a huge fear presented especially during this election.OBAMA: And the reason that fear is promoted is because they don't want people voting. People are discouraged from voting, and part of what is important for Latino citizens is to make your voice heard, because you're not just speaking for yourself. You're speaking for family members, friends, classmates of yours in school ...RODRIGUEZ: Your entire community.OBAMA: ... who may not have a voice. Who can't legally vote. But they're counting on you to make sure that you have the courage to make your voice heard.
Obama is expressly making clear that it is illegal for undocumented workers to vote. He is saying that it is incumbent upon Latino citizens to go to the polls to ensure that their voices — and the voices of those who can't vote because they are undocumented or have not become citizens — can be heard.
What's depressing for me in all of this is that Paula is being actively and purposely manipulated by people with less than altruistic aims through the power of the Internet. To that end, the most important line in that entire clip is when the woman sitting in the back row urges Camerota to "Google it" and then says she saw it on Facebook.
Here's the thing: Facebook is using an algorithm to provide you "news" that it thinks you want to see. So, if Facebook has identified you as someone who supports Trump, it will pump in things like this deceptively edited clip that you will, almost certainly, take as gospel truth. You likely won't dig deeper into the story to make sure that the clip is legit; it affirms your view that Obama and Democrats are bad and are encouraging illegal behavior and, therefore, requires no checking. It's literally too good to check.
David Simas, Obama's political director, described this phenomenon in a conversation with the New Yorker's David Remnick. "Through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions," Simas said. "This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable."
You see that affirmation happening right in the CNN clip. Paula is affirmed by the woman in the row behind her who also "saw" Obama telling undocumented immigrants to vote. No matter that it isn't true. They both saw it. Are you saying their eyes are deceiving them? Or that they're lying?
It's hard to overestimate how dangerous this all is for a healthy democracy. When we can't collectively agree on a set of facts, we are in deep trouble. We're a hell of a lot closer to that than many people are willing to admit. And that's depressing as hell.