Amplification, or Why the Internet Is a Terrifying Thing

This just in: Some guy says that London hospitals are like war zones!

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

About a month ago, Breitbart ran a story ("Khan's London: Lead Surgeon Says Hospital Like Afghan War Zone, Two More Killed Overnight") about the recent upsurge in knifings in London. It quoted Dr. Mark Griffiths, the lead surgeon at a trauma center (Barts Health NHS Trust) in East London, as saying "Some of my military colleagues have described their practice here as similar to being at [Camp] Bastion" [in the Afghan war zone].

During his speech at the NRA Convention in Dallas last week, President Trump, apparently referring to the Breitbart story, said:

"I recently read a story that, in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital, right in the middle, is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds…. Yes, that's right, they don't have guns, they have knives, and instead there's blood all over the floors of this hospital. They say it's as bad a military war zone hospital."

Needless to say, that got a fair bit of attention on various Internet sites (search results here).

It's a nice illustration, I think, of Internet amplification. To begin with, it's quadruple hearsay: Trump says that Breitbart says that some guy in London says that his colleagues say that … it's like a warzone. But then, almost instantaneously, it has been repeated and repeated, over and over, hundreds of thousands or millions of times.

That has nothing to do, of course, with whether or not it's actually true. It's still just some guy in London who reported on what some of his colleagues said. It's as though my barber tells me that he heard some guy say that property taxes in Prince Georges County were going through the roof. That's not evidence that taxes in PG County are going through the roof. It's just some guy saying that they are. And even if the story is picked up by someone at Breitbart (or Huffpost, or, or any place)—"Taxes in PG County Skyrocketing"—and even if the President repeats it, that doesn't change what it is—some guy's opinion about things.

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  1. Of course, whether it’s true or not has a lot to do with whether we should cheer “amplification” on, or mourn it.

    1. Perhaps the issue is not whether “it” is true, but what did the original comment mean? I interpreted the original comment to refer simply to the fact that an uptick in knife wounds that resemble traumatic injuries in war zones was notable, not that his trauma unit or an OR resemble a war zone. And remember that treating two stab wounds per week in a unit in which only one stab wound is treated per week is a 100% increase, a very worrying rise in frequency…

      1. David,
        1. I had the same reaction that you had.
        2. But…nuance, and appreciation of nuance, are not hallmarks of the occupant of the White House.
        3. Even if Trump did understand that likely actual meaning (or, more probably, someone smart explained it to him), there is zero reason to ever believe that he’d let the truth get in the way of a good story.
        4. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised that our president did not also include a link to a fake, Alt-Right, website, showing a video that falsely suggested that this particular hospital did indeed look like a war zone.
        5. So, hey . . . progress, right? Baby steps, perhaps. But still . . . progress.

        1. It has been a problem in EVERY White House.

          Falsehoods by omission can be even worse.

          1) How often when every Obama pushed for (failed) Australian system (large scale confiscation of virtually all modern firearms) or other gun control did he mention that US gun murder rate had fallen about 60% or fallen most in that 5-22 year old student age cohort? A: not once.

          2) That the largest school shooting by far in the US was with pistol?

          3) That the largest school shooting by an individual in any democracy was not US, but in Norway with a gun that is legal in Canada and quite a few developed democracies, legal in NYC and DC for that matter.

          4) That ALL the gun control lobby groups, with testimony, amicus or statements opposed Heller in Heller V DC, meaning they all support total bans on even revolvers for persons with background checks, training and a safe to keep the firearm in.

          5) that his favorite example of Australia also allows double jeopardy, aggressive stop& frisk, much lower thresholds for warrants, much more court inclusion of evidence not specified on warrants, lower thresholds for police to detain someone for mental health evaluation and lower thresholds to mandatory hold and treat them. wiretaps are also easier. Simply put Australia system not only lower second amendment civil rights/liberties, but lower fourth, fifth and sixth amendment rights which allow them to prevent more crime outright, and when committed add certainty to prosecution.

          1. Linda: I think that one difference between the Trump White House and other White Houses is that previous presidents misrepresented as a tactic; we always get the feeling that Trump simply doesn’t understand, but genuinely believes that nonsense that he spouts.

            1. @DavidTaylor,

              “we always get the feeling that Trump simply doesn’t understand, but genuinely believes that nonsense that he spouts.”

              Speak for your self. My impression of Donald Trump is that the ONLY thing he believes in is Donald Trump.

              1. My self said OK.

        2. What video? You obviously haven’t read the story. Breitbart isn’t fake. I dare you to go to the story and attempt to debunk it. A real person is quoted, Dr. Mark Griffiths, the lead surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust in East London, as saying that there’s an increase in knife wounds, and the victims are getting younger; and said “Some of my military colleagues have described their practice here as similar to being at [Camp] Bastion.” It’s a parenthetical used to illustrate the conditions which he has experienced himself.

          This stuff about Trump being dumb, incapable of perceiving nuance, need to have things explained to him, being a liar – these are all of the same Alinski-esque attack techniques that the liberal, progressive left have used against virtually all of their opponents: Reagan, Bush,

          If being very wealthy, living in an opulent apartment in a building you’ve built, flying around in your personal airliner, being married to a super model, and becoming president despite opposition from one’s own adopted political party defines “stupid” – then I’ll have some of that, too.

          1. Some of my military colleagues have described their practice here as similar to being at [Camp] Bastion
            versus: Hospital Like Afghan War Zone

            That’s not a defensible amount of spin, that’s fearmongering BS.

            Is this truly your argument: America never rewards stupid people, and so all successful people cannot be stupid?!

            1. Camp Bastion was in an Afghan war zone. What spin?

              If people should be afraid of walking around somewhere for fear of being assaulted, it’s not fear mongering to say so. London’s murder rate has surpassed NYC’s, with a dramatic recent uptick.

              Your interpretation of my argument is absurd. I am saying that those opposed to Trump or Bush or Reagan assert that they are stupid. A well-worn, liberal tactic.

              1. Practice as similar to war is not the same as the much more general ‘Hospital is like in a war.’

                Yeah, the left calls conservative Presidents dumb. This isn’t some lie, it’s because intellectualism is less an attribute the right cares about than the left so when Republican Presidents get in, that’s generally a likely and sincere avenue of attack.

  2. Yes, the internet enables a lot of amplification, but the same thing has been going on, on a smaller scale, ever since the printing press was first used to publish political tracts. Pick up any newspaper, even such vaunted (whether or not deserving) sources as the New York Times or the Washington Post, and you are very likely to see at least one story, often many, which represents the opinion of some unnamed “experts” as the “truth”. When President Barack Obama used the bully pulpit of the State of the Union Address to allege (quite falsely) that the Citizens United decision undid 200 years of First Amendment precedent, how many people accepted that as “the truth”? When the NYT published Paul Krugman’s OpEd piece confidently stating that he was convinced by the Card-Katz-Kreuger studies that increasing the minimum wage had no impact on teen unemployment, how many people accepted this as if it were written on stone tablets from Mount Sinai? And how many people actually read the studies to find out that they were methodological crap?

  3. Professor Post:

    I see the surgeon was identified by name and is someone who is in the best possible position to have direct experiential knowledge of the subject matter.

    This makes the reporting infinitely more credible and sound than the anti-Trump, unnamed sources reporting that gets you very aroused.

    1. Actually, the surgeon identified by name was paraphrasing the passing comments of a different un-named acquaintance, so had zero “direct experiential knowledge.”

      So what is it really in the post that arouses you so?

      1. The idiocy and lies continue with Purple Martin.

        “Dr. Mark Griffiths, the lead surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust in East London, said that knife and gun wounds had moved from a “niche” part of his job to a daily chunk of his workload, and a growing number of victims were “children”.

        “We used to look after people in their twenties. Now people are often in their mid to late teens and children in school uniforms are being admitted under our care with knife and gun wounds.”

        He added: “Whereas a young boy being stabbed five or six years ago would have been a horror story, now it’s normal.

        “People expect to see people being killed on a daily basis. Members of the public who are not involved in gangs or violence let this pass without comment and you get the society you deserve if you ignore violence.”

        1. “Some of my military colleagues have described their practice here as similar to being at [Camp] Bastion,”

          Griffiths knows what the hospital is like, but not, apparently, what a war zone is like.

    1. The first link doesn’t corroborate the story. It merely repeats the misquote.

      1. Neither does the second link, from the title alone.

        This is lame.

      2. DavidTaylor,

        No, the piece is about comments from an entirely different person. Then the background is covered.

        Do you just make shit up to further your narrative and hope nobody calls you on it?

  4. Raising children at the outset of free internet porn, I came to the idea of teaching them the following concept:

    What you see on a screen, is some other person’s idea of what could be.

    It should be considered only as such. The material, by itself, has no way to inform the viewer of any essential quality whatsoever. Like the evening news or a tweet (or porn), the material was constructed to communicate a message. The message is not knowable without additional data. Period. No exception.

  5. Here’s what Post was thinking when he decided to write this:. Trump said something completely outrageous and made up and I’m going to totally rip him. Then he gets the piece 3/4 written, and decides to see what totally made up source Trump might have gotten the idea from, finds out it’s Breitbart and that’s even better. Then he finds out it’s a named source at a real hospital and it’s totally legit. And Post is crushed and writes this lame screed.

    1. “lame screed’ is all he writes

    2. totally legit

      Still unsupported, though. Ad hominem is bad, but then so is appeal a sources legitness.

      Post makes me wince a bit, but I do love his comment sections!

      1. What, precisely, is unsupported? Trump said, “They say it’s as bad a military war zone hospital.”

        A London ER doctor, per multiple sources, said publicly, on the record, “Some of my military colleagues have described their practice here as being similar to being at [Helmand province’s former Camp] Bastion.”

        I mean, where’s the beef here?

        1. Medical practice being similar is not the same as conditions being similar.

          Implying London is a battlezone is just not true.

  6. Yeah, Trump should have said: Sources familiar with London hospitals say that…”

    1. Would be nice to see WaPo respond to that.

  7. I guess the first question is whether this doctor’s colleagues, being veterans, actually made those comments, and the second question (assuming the first part is true) is what credibility these physician-veterans have as commenters on the severity of the situation in London.

    Apparently other media outlets have done some follow up and gotten similar information.

  8. Then again, the BBC also seems concerned about the uptick in murders in London.

    Of course, although they title it “Gun violence on London’s streets ‘must stop'”, many of the cases it mentions involve stabbings.

  9. WaPost used genetic fallacy.

    yes Brietbart like Salon/Slate/MotherJones whatever is partisan. That is why the Post was desperate to point out the Breitbart story play without noting whatsoever the utterly neutral original source.

  10. Good post, Post, especially from you. Kinda reminds me of all the amplification of froth about Trump including your initial joy to report the stock market was down immediately after Trump won. Lasted only a few hours before it recovered & look at it, the economy now.

  11. David Post, please share with us what it’s like living with acute Trump Derangement Syndrome. It must be fascinating.

  12. 8 hours and loki hasn’t shown up to complain about David Post getting a place to write on this blog. Weird. Probably just a busy day and he’ll be around to do it soon.

    1. While I kind of enjoy a little instapundit spice in my legal blog, I don’t think Post is equivalent to Heirot. For instance, he’s spinning around based on an actual quote here, not just insinuating bad faith because liberals don’t agree with his understanding of what their principals should be.

      You may not like either style, but they are not the same.

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