SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This week, the president of the United States passed along malicious messages from a racist, ultranationalist fringe group directly to 44 million people. Those 44 million follow him on Twitter and may have now retweeted those anti-Muslim messages to millions more. The president tweeted three videos posted by a leader of the group Britain First. All the videos blame Muslims for crimes or offenses. But within hours, they were shown to make claims that are either false or wrenched out of context. Prime Minister Theresa May's office said Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives that stoke tensions. It's as if the British prime minister had passed along a tweet from David Duke, who, by the way, saw the Britain First videos and tweeted, thank God for Trump. That's why we love him.
The videos are anti-Muslim screeds you would hope a middle-school student would recognize as unfounded and inflammatory. But they were tweeted without skepticism or comment by the president of the United States. The president has one of the largest Twitter followings in the world, though not as large, it may pain him to admit, as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama or Shakira. He boasts that tweeting directly to 44 million people enables him to reach the public without journalism getting in the way. He does not retweet cute cat or recipe videos or opinions that don't amplify his own. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters the president may not know much about Britain First but said, look, I think what he's done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat.
Britain First, which habitually wins less than 1 percent of the vote in elections, thanked the president for elevating their party onto the world stage. How did the president even come across Britain First? I found the group on Twitter and, within seconds, received suggestions from the algorithms for other hypernationalist groups. That's how the platform works. If you look up cute cat videos - and I do - they put other cute animal videos into what you see on Twitter. The president may not have known about Britain First, but algorithms deliver their messages to the president based on what he reads on Twitter. No matter how many thoughtful people are put on the White House staff, the president may be getting his information about vital issues like immigration 280 characters or one deceptive video after another at a time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.