Fake news strikes again: The absurd notion that President Barack Obama shamelessly golfed throughout Hurricane Katrina is circulating on Twitter.
While some fake news stories are hard to dispel, this one isn’t. Obama was not president during Hurricane Katrina, which happened in August 2005.
Obama was not sworn in until January 2009. Hurricane Katrina actually became one of the defining moments of George W. Bush’s presidency and spawned Kanye West’s famously declaration that W. “doesn’t care about black people.” (Bush later called West’s accusation “one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.”)
While the inaccuracy of the Obama-Katrina golf claims is obvious, what isn’t clear is who is circulating them. Some of the claims seem to come from automated bot accounts programmed to impersonate real users.
But the fake narrative seems to have started with actual human beings. Political social media expert Dora Kingsley Vertenten, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy, said it’s rare for bot accounts to spread new ideas.
“The purpose of a bot is really to provide amplification of a message, so [there is] actually very little new information being created, or new content,” she told TheWrap. “Most bot traffic is amplification or just repeating what’s already out there. Bots can be pre-programmed, and so they really are looking for key words or key messages or they’re set up to track somebody else, so when ‘Person A’ makes a message, the next 10 bots just repeat it.”
“Because there is no fact-checking, nor can you authenticate, you don’t know who’s behind the bot, it’s a really simple electronic measure to obscure someone’s identity and their true purpose,” Vertenten added.
“The goal of a bot is the same as any other communication, right?” she continued. “They want to push out a positive message, or more likely they like to push negative news because the truth of the matter is people remember negative news much more easily than they do positive news.”
One account that spread the falsehood is @MargaretHochdo2, which is now suspended. It has a timeline full of pro-Trump rhetoric, and tweeted over the weekend: “How come we never saw Obama helping the Katrina victims? Oh, that’s right he was golfing at that time.”
The account @sheila06942158 has a long timeline full of Trump support, though an Obama-Katrina tweet was deleted after others pointed out the error. “U R a nutcase,” the tweet declared. “It was your Pres Obama who was golfing during Hurricane Katrina. Pres Trump has been very proactive in sending help b4 & now.”
When another user offered a correction, @sheila06942158 replied that it was beside the point, “which was that Obama stayed golfing.”
So what was Obama doing in August 2005? He had just been elected to the Senate the year before, and said Bush had not acted quickly enough. “I can say from personal experience how frustrating, how unconscionable it is, that it has been so difficult to get medical supplies to those in need quickly enough,” he said after returning from a trip to the Gulf in early September.
He added that once “the wounds have healed, we’re gonna have to do some hard thinking about how we could have failed our fellow citizens so badly, and how we will prevent such a failure from ever occurring again.”
“If there’s any bright light that has come out of this disaster,” he added. “It’s the degree to which ordinary Americans have responded with speed and determination even as their government has responded with unconscionable ineptitude.”
Summary: President Obama wasn’t golfing during Hurricane Katrina.