Fake "liberal" Twitter account exposed: We should worry less about AI and more about human stupidity

"Erica Marsh" was obviously not real, but MAGA Twitter just can't quit their addiction to disinformation

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 6, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

In this photo illustration the Twitter logo is seen on a computer screen and mobile cellphone. (Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
In this photo illustration the Twitter logo is seen on a computer screen and mobile cellphone. (Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The funniest aspect of the "Erica Marsh" story is how obvious it was that this supposed hot girl #Resistance tweeter was not a real person.

Drew Harwell of the Washington Post wrote over the holiday about the recently suspended Twitter account of the alleged "proud Democrat" who supposedly had worked for both President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, even though there is absolutely no record of her, or that she's even a registered voter.

Her account was wildly popular, with "more than 130,000 followers for her hyper-liberal, often melodramatic opinions," Harwell wrote. Crucially, however, she wasn't familiar to the flesh-and-blood Democratic voters of the real world. Instead, she's "popular with conservatives, who promoted her as a perfect symbol of how overly theatrical and inane liberals can be."

It also helped that her photos, which experts told Harwell are likely faked, portrayed a conventionally attractive young blonde woman. As anyone who watches Fox News regularly can attest, "hot girl liberal" is a favorite hate object offered up to their aging and largely male audience. The anger at women who disagree with them combines with their sexual insecurities to create a white-hot "how dare that bitch" rage. It's like uncut cocaine straight to the MAGA brain. (One right-wing Redditor's reaction: "The fact that she's kind of hot makes me even more irritated with this.")

This is more disinformation meant to keep conservatives in a rage doom loop that detaches them from reality. 

The real giveaway that this was a fake account, however, was the tweets themselves. They read as an over-the-top fantasy of what MAGA wishes liberals were like. For instance, the account tweeted last month that she wears "2 masks whenever I go out and support Ukraine." The account responded to the Supreme Court ending college affirmative action with, "No Black person will be able to succeed in a merit-based system." That one got more than 27 million views, mostly due to conservatives congratulating themselves over knowing liberals are the "real" racists. She also provided fuel for right-wing conspiracy theories by bragging about the supposed efforts to falsify votes for Democrats. 

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

One gets the sense that the person behind the account was testing if conservatives have a limit to how much B.S. they'll swallow. This doesn't diminish the possibility that the person behind it is also a right-winger. Longtime observers of the right will note that they view each other with total contempt, which is why the GOP is stuffed full of grifters and con artists who are always hustling their fellow travelers. But, of course, there is no such thing as shame on the right. The obvious fakery of the "Erica Marsh" account did little to stifle the willingness of Republicans to exploit the hoax to stoke hatred of liberals. Even Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., hyped the phony affirmative action tweet.

Did Gaetz believe this to be a real tweet? Doubtful. He's a jerk, but he's not a dumb man. He's just using this fake account for his own engagement farming. Of course, it would be naive to think Gaetz's followers were duped, either. Like much disinformation on the right, this is less about people genuinely falling for false information, and more about conservatives collectively play-acting belief as a show of tribal loyalty. "Erica Marsh is real" goes along with "Biden stole the 2020 election" and "Obama faked his birth certificate" in the bucket of things they don't believe in the factual sense, but espouse as a marker of their MAGA identity. 

The reactions on MAGA Twitter to the exposure of the "Erica Marsh" were telling. They weren't embarrassed, much less apologetic. Instead, there were a lot of "so what" reactions and people sticking to the lie that "Marsh" must be real. 

Another entirely predictable right-wing reaction: generating conspiracy theories, i.e. more disinformation meant to keep conservatives in a rage doom loop that detaches them from reality. 

Not that it's hard to keep MAGA Americans suckling at the disinfo bottle. As the Fox News/Dominion lawsuit showed, the GOP base is addicted to lies. If they are exposed to real facts, they throw tantrums, screaming and crying until they are restored to their comfort zone, which is an ocean of nonsense.

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

"Artificial intelligence" is the current moral panic gripping the mainstream media. The "intelligence" part of AI is a misnomer. It's actually a series of non-sentient computer programs that use statistical crunching to generate text or images meant to seem human. When people try to pass off AI content as human-created, however, it rarely passes the smell test. The vast majority of the time, the results are only impressive if one knows that an unthinking computer created them, as demonstrated by the fake viral photos of Donald Trump getting arrested that went viral before his actual, much less dramatic arraignments. 

Despite this, the press coverage is leading to fears that people — well, right-wingers, anyway — will be legitimately fooled by AI-generated text and images. To hear some journalists and tech hypemen, you'd think that the immediate future will be shaped by masses of people fooled by computer magic. Soon, we're told, millions of people will be tricked by, say, a fake video of Biden eating infants or at least saying something politically damaging he didn't actually say. 

The goal isn't to fool people, so much as it is to deprive truth of all social value.

What this hand-wringing overlooks, however, is that right-wing America doesn't need its lies to be plausible to buy into them. Every day, conservative social media is awash in urban legends, conspiracy theories, and images/texts that are clearly fake. No one seems to mind because the MAGA world gave up on the concept of "truth" long ago. If anything, the more obvious the hoax, the more popular it is. 

For a good example of how this works, look at Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tweeting out a fake quote on July 4th. "Patrick Henry: 'It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ," it reads.

As many, many liberals pointed out on Twitter, Patrick Henry said no such thing. Instead, the quote came from a 50s-era magazine that celebrated anti-semitism and racial segregation. 

It's unlikely that Hawley or his staff were actually confused about the sourcing. Hawley graduated from Stanford University and Yale Law and is remembered by his professors as well-read even by the high standards of those schools. Moreover, he has not deleted the tweet or apologized for it since posting it, showing he is fully committed to this lie. Instead of apologizing, he's gloating about how his lie "triggered" the liberals.

From a sociopathic point of view, this all makes sense. If Hawley had posted a real quote, it would have gone unnoticed. His fake quote, however, got huge amounts of engagement on social media and a cascade of press coverage. He was able to signal to his followers his affection for an openly racist publication while pretending it was an accident. It was a brilliant, though evil, way to promote white supremacy and hatred of non-Christians, and he weaponized liberal outrage to do it. 

The MAGA movement is not fooled by disinformation. They weaponize it. We saw it with Trump's Big Lie, which is built on a series of conspiracy theories so flimsy it's unlikely that many who espouse it have any actual belief in it. We see it in how Fox News only loses viewers when they tell them the truth. That's why "Erica Marsh" was so successful, and likely would be again if "her" account is restored. Likely many people who retweeted "her" knew it was just a hateful MAGA fantasy. Others simply didn't care if it was real or not, so long as it accomplished their goal of demonizing liberals. 

For Trumpist conservatives, it's not even really so much about lying as it is waging war on the concept of truth itself. The goal isn't to fool people, so much as it is to deprive truth of all social value. They want a world where what they want to believe is "true" and what is actually true is not relevant. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

MORE FROM Amanda Marcotte

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Ai Artificial Intelligence Commentary Erica Marsh Josh Hawley Maga Trolling Trolls Twitter