This is the third post in a series about how to distinguish truth from falsehood on the Internet. In a 2017 video, Marjorie Taylor Greene, now congresswoman-elect from Georgia, cited photographic evidence that the mysterious person, Q, who is at the center of the QAnon conspiracy theory, is someone very close to President Trump (or having “connections at the highest levels,” as she put it a few lines later in full transcript of the video here). Here’s what she said:
Another thing is Q put out a picture, it was like the clue, and the photo was from an airplane and someone figured out the angle from the photograph, and it matched the coordinates exactly to the same area that Air Force One was flying over. So people believe that Q is someone very close to President Trump.
Take a moment and see how many things you can find wrong with this.
Here is my list.
- She gives us no way to see this picture for ourselves, such as a web address. I have searched hard for this photo and have not found it.
- But let’s grant that the photo exists. It evidently showed no identifying features of Air Force One. If it had, nobody would have had to figure out that it was Air Force One based on the “angle from the photograph.”
- The person who figured out the coordinates is an unnamed “someone” and again there is no reference. How do we know this is not just an urban legend?
- The word “exactly” should make our exaggerated-claim radar go beep-beep-beep. (Really? How exact was it?)
- To avoid chaos in the skies, airplanes fly in well-traveled routes. There have doubtless been countless airplanes that had the same view out their windows as the one Q allegedly posted.
- But let’s say that it was a view from Air Force One. Would that prove that Q is “very close to President Trump” with “connections at the highest levels?” No, it would not. It could have been the orderly who cleans the toilets on the aircraft.
- But let’s say the photo was from Air Force One and the photographer was one of Trump’s closest advisors. That still would prove nothing. Maybe said advisor snapped it and texted it to his friend who doesn’t even know Trump, who likes to have fun stirring up trouble as “Q”.
So what we have here is an unsourced, unseen photograph, allegedly analyzed by an unsourced, unknown person who may or may not have made an “exact” computation that means almost nothing about either the nature of the aircraft or the status of the photographer.
This is what passes for a convincing story to the woman whom the good people of northwest Georgia have chosen, by a 3-to-1 margin, as their representative in the United States Congress.
Not surprisingly, she is also convinced that Trump won the popular vote in her state, despite a recount that proves otherwise, as well as certification of the results by the Republican governor and the Republican secretary of state.
The moral is that if someone is offering what seems to be convincing evidence, such as a photograph, think hard about what the evidence really does and does not prove. If it proves much less than the person claims for it, then the person is probably both gullible and biased, and you should be extra-skeptical of that person’s other claims.
Here’s a quick bonus exercise. Another scrap of evidence Mrs. Greene cites for Q having “connections at this highest levels” is this:
When Q signs off he puts three little crosses in a row… Now he signed off with three crosses in a row on November 6 and within a matter of minutes, President Trump, in his tweet…7 minutes later, Trump put three little crosses on his tweet. And it was just more than a coincidence. It was really interesting
Does the fact that Trump put “+++” on his tweet soon after Q did the same show that Q has “connections at the highest levels” or could there be another reason?
This reminds me of another principle: a large pile of bad evidence is not worth even a small pile of good evidence.