It’s not hard to find anti-abortion misinformation on Fox News, particularly the network’s persistent suggestion that abortion rights are unpopular. But in the past year, Fox has found a new source of evidence to support this inaccurate allegation: Tweets from random users responding to other right-wing media outlets' abortion-related stories.
Fox has demonstrated time and again that it does not prioritize accurate reporting on abortion. In addition to the frequent anti-choice commentary from network hosts and guests, Fox has also been airing a curated selection of tweets, almost all of which were posted in response to abortion-related articles from right-wing media outlets. By airing cherry-picked tweets, the network is amplifying a selection of voices from the conservative media ecosystem to create the illusion that there’s widespread opposition to abortion rights. There isn’t.
Media Matters searched Fox News segments from January 1, 2019 through July 31, 2019 and found 15 instances of the network airing tweets in conversations about reproductive rights. Of those, only two represented a pro-choice view. Five of the tweets in question belong to accounts that have gone private since the posts were aired on Fox (limiting available data), but of the 10 remaining tweets, five had no interactions from other users. Of the five tweets that did have interactions, none had garnered more than four retweets, bringing into question both their newsworthiness and representativeness of public opinion. Many of these tweets added little value to the segments during which they were aired, such as the following tweet that was included in a story about Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) positions on abortion:
Even though this tweet had no likes or retweets, Fox News chose to broadcast this statement to its massive audience. Given how unusual its seems for the network to devote so much attention to a remark made by a user with only 76 followers, Fox likely included this tweet to suggest the anti-choice talking point enjoys broad support.
Airing content from unverified Twitter users with minimal interactions and few followers is a strange journalistic practice, regardless of the content or origin of the tweets. But it is particularly concerning that Fox is seemingly browsing the Twitter mentions of other right-wing outlets to find material to reinforce the network's inaccurate talking points about abortion. Of the 15 tweets Fox aired during this time period, many were associated with content from right-wing media outlets including the Washington Free Beacon, Washington Examiner, TheBlaze, and Townhall -- all outlets with a history of spreading anti-abortion misinformation.
Broadcasting commentary in support of this anti-choice content and presenting these opinions as representative of the broader public is misleading and allows Fox to air anti-abortion talking points under selectively engineered pretenses. In a previous study, Media Matters found that Fox News deploys this tactic to manipulate more than just conversations about abortion. Fox’s social media round-ups have included tweets disparaging former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, marijuana legalization, social activist and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, college free-speech policies, and more. In several instances, these tweets were edited or partially displayed to better suit whatever narrative Fox was pushing.
Fox News has a long history of spreading misleading and sensationalized misinformation about abortion. The network has already weaponized anti-abortion misinformation during coverage of the 2020 presidential election, in particular attempting to portray support for abortion rights as unpopular. Farming the Twitter mentions of other right-wing outlets to cherry-pick examples of anti-choice sentiment is only the latest tactic in the network’s misleading coverage of abortion rights.
Using the media intelligence tool iQMedia, Media Matters searched for all segments aired by the Fox News Network that contained the terms “tweet,” “tweeted,” “twitter,” or “social” within 60 words of the terms “abortion,” “parenthood,” or “reproductive,” between January 1, 2019 and July 31, 2019. We then reviewed all the results for relevancy and eliminated any segments where the tweets aired were posted by individuals directly related to the story at hand.