Saturday, October 10, 2020

Tim Pool keeps using the same bad argument to criticize journalists

Tim Pool was criticizing the media this week for spreading what he called "unhinged conspiracy theories" about Donald Trump's visit to Walter Reed.  The main conspiracy theory he focused on concerned the EXIF data of these two photographs released by the White House:

Twitter users, most notably Jon Ostrower, looked at the EXIF data and saw the timestamps were only spaced 10 minutes apart.  If the timestamps are legit, it gives the photos a certain staged quality, suggesting perhaps Donald Trump wasn't working as hard as he'd want the American public to believe:

Tim Pool found this allegation ridiculous.  "Let me explain why these people are insane," he says in his video (which, incidentally, has over 250,000 views).  He explains that the timestamps in the EXIF data were probably created at the end of the day when the AP photographer (referring to Joyce N. Boghosian) finally had the chance to file and edit her photos.  Thus, the timestamps didn't actually correspond to when the two photographs were originally shot.  


Tim concludes:  "These journalists don't do any work at all.  None!  None whatsoever.  It's incredible.  The no work.  No Google search."

Tim has taken this approach before.  I'm talking specifically about the videos he made following the Toronto Van Attack.  On April 23rd, 2018, a man named Alek Minassian drove a van onto a crowded Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others.  In the hours after the attack, people began sharing copies of a Facebook post supposedly written by Alek Minassian that referenced an Incel Rebellion  The post said:

Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161.  The Incel Rebellion has already begun!  We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!  All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!

Journalists reached out to Facebook and got confirmation the post was real, and Alek Minassian was labeled an incel terrorist by the media.  Tim Pool was pissed off about this, for some reason.  He did some digging and he concluded the Facebook post was a hoax, which meant there was no evidence Alek Minassian was an incel.  In four different YouTube videos, Tim Pool asserted his belief that the Facebook profile was fake, and he also said the journalists spreading this type of hoax were "evil."  Here's a sample diatribe:

This is fake news....I bet everything, I bet my car, that this incels thing is fake news....Somebody made a Facebook profile and then added a post...We have no reason to believe it's true.  There's no confirmation. Yet it will go down in history that this man was an incel like many of these other shooters, like Elliot Rodger....When the New York Times runs a story where they say Alek Minassian was an incel, that's not the truth....A fake profile is not proof.

However, it turned out the Facebook post was real.  Alek Minassian wrote it, he posted it on his personal Facebook account, and he identified as an incel.  I reviewed Tim's arguments in a blog post last year, and I examined in painstaking detail all the facts surrounding the Facebook post, and I concluded with roughly 99.99% certainty it was legitimate.  There was a tiny smidge of uncertainty, but this doubt was removed when Toronto authorities released footage last year of an interview between Alek Minassian and a police detective:

Minassian talks at length about being an incel, about 4chan and Eliot Rodger.  At the 2:01:07 mark, he says:

I did post a Facebook message right before the attack stating that the Incel Rebellion has already begun.  

So there's the definitive proof.

Now it would be easy to say, "Hey look, Tim Pool got it wrong!"  But I wanted to understand why he got it wrong, and there were a few reasons I picked up on as to why Tim Pool thought the Facebook post was a hoax.  He thought the timestamp on the Facebook post might not match up with the minute-by-minute timeline of the attack, and he also thought the post might've been edited after the attack took place.  I explained in my blog why neither of those theories made sense.  I know how Facebook works, and I could tell when Tim Pool was barking up the wrong tree.

It's harder for me to pinpoint where Tim might be going wrong with regards to the EXIF data.  When he mentioned Adobe Premiere, and talked about his experience rendering photos, I found myself thinking, "Maybe he really knows what he's talking about this time."  And I realized I was starting to fall under what Michael Crichton called the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.  This pertains to how we consume the news, and how we forget to be skeptical sometimes.  Crichton said:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

I myself don't know anything about photography or how EXIF if data is generated.  However, I recognize that the argument Tim made about EXIF data is the exact same goddamn argument he made about Alek Minassian's Facebook post:  He's saying journalists got it wrong because the timestamps can be edited.  That's his one argument.  The last time I analyzed one of these arguments, it turned out to be bullshit.  Since I couldn't pass my own judgment on this specific topic, I looked at what different news and photography websites said about the EXIF data.

Allen Murabayashi wrote a blog post and recorded a podcast for PhotoShelter.com, and he used forensic tools to examine the two pictures.  He drew a critical eye to certain claims, such as the claim Donald Trump was signing a blank piece of paper.  At no point did Allen suggest the timestamps in the EXIF data were misleading.

Patrick Hall of Fstoppers.com tried to track down the original photos so he could examine the EXIF data himself.  Patrick's article took a more cautious approach.  He wrote: "Some might ask if someone simply could have made up fake EXIF data and pushed them online to a mob of people foaming at the mouth to discredit the president? That doesn't seem to be the case since the times match from images anyone can download off the AP's website."

Jane Lytvynenko of BuzzFeed News complied a list of false claims and misinformation being spread about Donald Trump's stay at Walter Reed.  In regards to the EXIF data, she wrote: "Yes, metadata really does show these two photos of Trump being taken minutes apart. (The date relies on the camera's internal clock, which may be out of date or inaccurate.)"

Allen Murabayashi and Patrick Hall are photographers, and Jane Lytvynenko debunks misinformation for a living.  None of them brought up the same point Tim Pool had harped on.  None of them suggested the timestamps in the EXIF data were generated or edited when the photos were filed at the end of the day.  Tim Pool was acting as though Jon Ostrower and other Twitter users had made the most obvious mistake in the world.  Yet I couldn't find anyone else echoing Tim's thoughts.

Maybe there's a reason for that.

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