As the major social media companies locked out President Donald Trump from access to their platforms — over concerns that he may have been continuing to foment another violent attack by his supporters on Washington, D.C. — and internet infrastructure companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Google are locking out the right-wing platform Parler, Fox News engaged in a shameless bit of whataboutism over the phrase “Hang Mike Pence” trending on Twitter.
In fact, the phrase was trending as a result of a video posted during the January 6 insurrection of an apparent lynch mob made up of Trump supporters who were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” as they stormed the Capitol. Yet Fox suggested it trended because people were urging such action, erroneously offering it as an example of a double standard in terms of social media platform enforcement.
The chant came after Pence had refused to follow Trump’s demand — also pushed by far-right media — that he assert an unconstitutionally asserted power to refuse to count Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden. As the mob descended toward the Capitol, Trump tweeted a further inciting statement: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
The video of the chant gained more attention overnight on Friday and into Saturday, from people now noticing and commenting on it in horror and outrage, thus causing the phrase to trend automatically — not as a result of people tweeting such a message in approval.
Twitter ultimately did intervene, removing the phrase from the Trending topics, regardless of the context in which it had trended. “We want trends to promote healthy discussions on Twitter,” a company spokesperson said.
Fox’s lies began on Saturday — from the “news side”
During a news block on Saturday, Fox News correspondent Mark Merdith said, “Overnight Twitter was criticized for allowing the hashtag ‘Hang Mike Pence’ to trend — it has since been blocked — but a Twitter spokesperson telling Fox, ‘Hashtags are meant to focus on healthy discussions.’” The segment offered no context about the original video or the commentary about it.
During a later discussion on alleged social media bias against conservatives, Fox guest Gianno Caldwell conceded that Twitter had the right as a private company to ban Trump from the platform. “However, you should have equality when you're talking about censoring,” Caldwell said. “And honestly, if you look at the platform now, you can probably censor the whole dang thing. Just yesterday, there was a trending name of ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ violence against our vice president. How is that appropriate?”
News anchor Eric Shawn never corrected Caldwell to say this topic was trending because of people commenting in a negative fashion about a video of Trump supporters at the Capitol, even though Caldwell mentioned the trending topic a second time in the interview.
The duplicity continued into Sunday
In the opening block Sunday of Fox & Friends Weekend, co-hosts Pete Hegseth and Jedediah Bila claimed that rules were not being applied equally about such violent speech online.
Hegseth also invoked the problem of “Hang Mike Pence” having trended on Twitter in an interview with Parler executive Amy Peikoff, with the two of claiming that this was a double standard. “We are clearly being singled out,” said Peikoff.
And on Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures, business anchor Maria Bartiromo hosted Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who noted that “Hang Mike Pence” had trended on Twitter. “Now, I think that's violence,” Nunes said. “Is Apple deleting the Twitter app from the App Store? Hell, no. These CEOs that are doing this should be prosecuted criminally — criminally.”
Bartiromo, who has been a major promoter of Trump’s lies about the election and argued that the election would be overturned, of course did not correct Nunes on this point. Instead, she only continued to nod along with Nunes’ call for the criminal prosecution of the internet companies for silencing Parler — or perhaps for supposedly spreading the violent threat against Pence — rather than talking about the actual Trump supporters who made the violent threat.
And on MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz complained that Twitter had taken down Trump’s account, “but meanwhile Twitter hasn't taken any action against the thousands of tweets — in fact they were trending — saying ‘Hang Mike Pence.’”
In Kurtz’s telling, Twitter ought to take action against all those thousands of people reacting in horror to Trump’s mob of supporters — except, of course, that he never even mentioned that the original video existed.