Odds are, if you use Facebook or other social media, you heard from someone that representatives for the band Survivor have filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against Kim Davis for using their song Eye of the Tiger at a recent rally.
However, if you check today’s 3 Count column, you’ll see that it’s not there. Instead, the lead involves Playboy suing the site MediaTakeOut over republished images.
This isn’t because I missed the story, but because the Kim Davis story is, to put it mildly, factually inaccurate.
While there is some truth to it, as there is with most myths, there is no lawsuit at this time. Though one may come about, it will likely take some time to be filed, if it ever is.
Instead, this story is just another cautionary tale about fake news being treated like fact on the Internet and how easily misinformation can be spread on social media.
The Kernel of Truth
As with most great works of fiction, there is a core of truth to the story and, in this case, it’s nearly all of the background information.
Kim Davis is the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Following the recent decision by the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage nationwide, she refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone stating that doing so would be a violation of her religious beliefs.
Court after court ordered her to comply, eventually evening being ordered by the Supreme Court to do so but she steadfastly refused and was jailed over the weekend for contempt of court.
When she was released on Tuesday, Sept 8. She attended a rally where she spoke. As she came on stage, the rally played the song Eye of the Tiger by the band Survivor, a fact that angered members of the band greatly.
At least two members of the band spoke out against the use of the song on social media and rumors quickly swirled that a lawsuit may be forthcoming.
However, here is where the false story deviates from the truth. According to the false reports, yesterday, just such a lawsuit was filed, naming both Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee, who organized the rally, as defendants while seeking $1.2 million in damages.
That lawsuit, however, does not exist and the story has many important issues. Still, plenty of people fell for it including Timothy Geigner at Tech Dirt and an unnamed reporter at The Edge Media Network, both of whom were forced to retract their stories earlier today.
Still, it’s understandable why the story spread so far so quickly. It rode on a wave of emotion and was backed by some seemingly legitimate sources.
The Problems with the Story
Pretty much all versions of the story can be traced back to an article on a fake NBC News site (link nofollowed) that made brief mention of the lawsuit in the first paragraph before moving on to more factually accurate information.
The people behind the site, in their footer, claim to operate at least five fake news sites, all using names of popular mainstream media site. For example, you can find the same story on their fake Fox News site as well (also nofollowed).
But while the sites can be convincing, especially to those only taking a quick look, the story itself is full or problems. Consider this short list of problems that myself and the people at Future of Music came up with over Twitter.
- EMI Doesn’t Exist: Several versions of the story mention the lawsuit was filed by EMI, however, EMI merged with Universal Music Group in 2012.
- Public Performance: EMI is a record label so they wouldn’t be the ones suing over a public performance as the composition is at issue, not the sound recording.
- Timing: A lawsuit being filed just one day after the alleged infringement is pretty much unheard of. It can take months or years to get a lawsuit in order and file it, especially one this complex.
- Damages: $1.2 million doesn’t make a great deal of sense as a number. Statutory damages for copyright max out at $150,000. Unless the lawsuit also includes other actions, $1.2 million is not a reasonable amount.
- The Defendants: According to the hoax, Kim Davis was listed as a defendant but she didn’t organize the rally. It was organized by Mike Huckabee in support of Davis, but originally she was not expected to attend.
While one or two of these things might not be enough to immediately discredit the story, the combination of variables is simply too much. This story is a hoax, but it’s a hoax that seems to have fooled a lot of people..
The reason this story went viral is pretty clear. Kim Davis is both a hot topic and a divisive figure. Many would revel in the idea of her facing such legal action while others would be deeply offended by it. Either way, the emotions simply overpowered the analysis of the facts and sources.
And the spreading of the story, for the most part, has been an act of emotion rather than intellect. Those who have posted or shared it, typically, have done so with either glee or disgust. Even Geigner, when posting it on TechDirt said it was “from the i’m-just-so-happy dept.”
It’s very easy to get swept up in those feelings, especially on an emotionally-charged issue such as this. Unfortunately though, some fraudsters love to use those feelings against us and use social media to spread false information, as in this case.
In short, this went viral not because people are stupid, but because people are human and others are willing to exploit that, for whatever reason.
It’s sad and its frustrating, but the blame for the hoax belongs not on those who shared it, but those who perpetrated it for their own gain.