OPINION: AT&T, OANN and Misinformation

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Last year feels like it was a lifetime away. We were all at home because of the pandemic, people were hoarding toilet paper and seemingly everyone was making whipped coffee and bread while being stuck at home. Personally, I remember listening to the White House briefings on the pandemic since I had nothing better to do, and whenever the time came for questions, I would always hear the same woman ask the oddest of questions. Those questions were not limited to but include: whether then-president Trump found the term “Chinese food” racist and generally just railing against abortions. I didn’t really know who she was or who she worked for at the time, but avid Trump supporters did. Sure enough, she comes from a far-right news network called One America News Network (OANN), and they frequently spread all kinds of misinformation. OANN even got banned from YouTube last year for spreading misinformation about a COVID-19 cure.

Earlier this month, it came out that the broadcasting giant AT&T had a pivotal role in the rise of the far-right news network OANN. Specifically, AT&T bankrolled the network to the point where one of OANN’s accountants said under oath that 90 percent of the revenue brought in by Herring Networks (the media company that owns OANN) came from AT&T-owned platforms in an investigative report published by Reuters. Furthermore, according to the same report, the network only came into being in 2013. At the time, unidentified AT&T executives told Robert Herring Sr and his sons, who own Herring Networks, that “there was an audience for another conservative news network.” The only possible conclusion that can be drawn after reading this report is that without AT&T, OANN as we know it would not exist. And we should not be surprised in the slightest. I’m saying that AT&T appears to be playing both sides for fun and profit due to it being CNN’s parent company.

This country has not done a good job at addressing misinformation, and it shows, and not just regarding the misinformation about politics and the pandemic that runs rampant among social media. There are bigger fish out there, and those bigger fish include news broadcasters like OANN and Fox News. Misinformation on social media has a much larger reach, but misinformation on networks that broadcast the news can be more harmful as they add legitimacy to whatever misinformation is spread. To put it plainly, which information source would you trust more: a chain text on WhatsApp from a family member or an actual news broadcast/article? When misinformation leaks into news broadcasts we think we can trust, it does a lot of harm. For example, how many people have mentioned that they live near Seattle, or Portland, and heard something along the lines of “Isn’t it a warzone out there?” by someone who has never been near here? While that viewpoint was spread by former president Trump and others, networks like Fox News certainly didn’t help. Remember when Fox News was forced to apologize when they published badly Photoshopped images of a man with a gun outside of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone last year? Sure, they apologized, but they didn’t face any consequences, and that’s what this all boils down to. A lack of consequences for outright lying has led to companies and corporations doing what they do best (making money by any means necessary) with little regard for the consequences of their actions. If we don’t address this problem, misinformation will never stop. And neither will the negative consequences of such misinformation.