S1E3: Who Cancelled Paw Patrol? No One Did!

Podcast published date: 

Jul 31, 2020

 

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

paw patrol, cancel, misinformation, tweets, people, shares, dog, article, new york times, comments, june, memes, piece, chase, troll, euthanize, twitter, post, joke, groundswell

SPEAKERS: Shawn Walker, Michael Simeone

 

Michael Simeone: Welcome to Missinfo Weekly, a mostly weekly program about misinformation in our time. Miss info weekly as a podcast by the unit for data science and analytics at Arizona State University Library this week, we look at misinformation surrounding the children's program called patrol. And how many people ca me to believe that the show was going to be canceled because of pressure from left wing political activists. So we start this week with a children's program. We're going to talk about Paw Patrol. Shawn, are you familiar with Paw Patrol as a television show? I know you're familiar with it as data but as a children show, have you ever watched it before? 

 

Shawn Walker: No, I actually I only watched a couple episodes this week. 

Michael Simeone: What's Paw Patrol about in your best possible description?

 

Shawn Walker:  Paw Patrol we have a number of dogs that are led by a 10 year old child named Ryder that they serve different roles. So there's a police dog. There's a fireman dog, there's a dog that fixes things and recycles and they go around and solve problems in the town.

 

Michael Simeone: How they solve the problems is to just build a bunch of different tools or machines to solve their problems. The one dog, which kind of became the center of a whole lot of controversy lately is Chase the police dog. He's a German Shepherd? 

 

Shawn Walker: Yeah. So Chase is a German Shepherd police dog that has been kind of the sort of top dog so to speak, in all the marketing for the show, since its inception. 

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah. And that's to say, he's not a canine unit. He is a dog who is a police officer, which in the show makes a bunch of sense that you would be a dog, police officer, not a dog have a police officer. If I could make that distinction.

 

Shawn Walker:  Yes, all the dogs can talk and have special powers and operate machines by voice and 

 

Michael Simeone: We are helpfully reminding people what a children's show might be like. So we're talking about Paw Patrol today because it's the kind of epicenter of a controversy around the representation of police in media and around the so called cancel culture about what comes off the air, what must come off the air. And how this is oftentimes a friction point between people who identify on the political left and people who identify on the political right. And so we want to tell a story or talk through a timeline, really about how we went from Paw Patrol expressing some solidarity with Black Lives Matter, to the show being about to be canceled to there being a huge amount of controversy around that show being canceled. The problem is, is that the show was never going to be canceled at all. And so we want to get to the bottom of how this went from one tweet in solidarity with Black Lives Matter to a misinformation event that got a lot of people confused about whether or not this show was going to go away, and where political pressure was coming from, if at all. So we can start from the beginning, so June 2. The official Paw Patrol Twitter account sends out a tweet in solidarity with #amplifymelanatedvoices. 

 

Shawn Walker: So the tweet says basically that they're going to be muted and listening until June 7, and that was tweeted at 6:21am. Phoenix time on June 2. So there are just a number of comments to that tweet. 1800 comments. So there's some discussion of, you know, we like Paw Patrol, we really support this idea then there's just a handful of comments, I think some of them in jest.

 

Michael Simeone: It seemed like it turned dark. 

 

Shawn Walker: There's some some darks too. There's some memes that are dark but maybe slightly enjoyable or interesting. Like there's a someone modified All Dogs Go To Heaven poster. Instead, All Dogs Go To Heaven except for those crap class traitors in Paw Patrol. 

[Dog barks in background]

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah, and our correspondent Justice just simply isn't having any of this conversation about any kind of bad outcomes for dogs. So when does the when did the memes really start? Do they start after that tweet on the second. 

 

Shawn Walker: A lot of the discussion is happening the same day. So basically, this tweet happens. There's kind of an immediate response and by response I don't mean a groundswell to to cancel or defund or as some have said euthanize Paw Patrol. A lot of people are saying thank you. So they're just a little bit of a conversation. There aren't mass calls for anything. And then we have nothing that's happening until June 10. 

 

Michael Simeone: Right. So at some point in that mixture of tweets, right between the second and the 10th, there are a lot of people who are kind of making some jokes, I think maybe like a couple hours after the first tweet comes out, somebody makes the first kind of off color or irreverent joke about kind of euthanizing patrol, or you know, something to that effect. Somebody else says, I hope you get cancelled. And just as a as a point of reference, we might mention specific tweets from Twitter accounts. But just as a matter of course, we do not mention the names of non verified accounts on Twitter to protect the identities of the people who go and post stuff. So it's not our agenda to identify specific Twitter users unless they have verified with Twitter that they are a public account and a public figure. So that's why we might say, we're talking about tweet, we're not going to reference a specific user. That's just what we do in respect to people's privacy. But there are tweets out there that say, I hope you get cancelled that get a little bit of some likes and some and some love. And then we get to the 10th, where things start to change. So Shawn, you've identified a couple different things that happened on the 10th. And what changes then? 

 

Shawn Walker: So we have this, you know, these number of comments. I wouldn't call anything a groundswell. So there's some positive comments. There's some negative comments. There's some funny memes, like a picture of Chase from Paw Patrol, in like a little Lego house that says mandatory inherent bias training on top. So that's the kind of banter that's going back and forth within the stream. Not right. That's called for. I think it's important to make it clear that it's not a mass call for canceling the show. 

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah, and in social media research, generally, if you have 1000 tweets total over the course of a week, and a fraction of them are have tongue in cheek opinion about circulating memes about sensitivity training for Chase the dog or not tongue in cheek, but kind of saying I hope you get cancelled that is relatively small compared to when you do see a groundswell of social media, you're going to see those kinds of messages amplified more than just dozens of times or a couple hundred shares, or even 100 shares of a meme, right? Normally, if something really goes viral, we're not talking about 100 shares. We're not talking about 20 likes.

 

Shawn Walker: Yes. And so we have this initial post on June 2, in solidarity with Paw Patrol, basically silencing their voice to listen then on June 10, we have a New York Times critics notebook article, so this is more of an opinion article. It's entitled "The Protest Came for Paw Patrol", and she mentions this Paw Patrol tweet about call for Black voices to be heard. And then she said yes, there are some commenters that have come and they've said, euthanize the police dog, they said defund the Paw Patrol. All Dogs Go To Heaven except for the class traitors in Paw Patrol, but the next paragraph is really important. She says, it's a joke, but it's not. And she discusses the meaning of the joke and the importance of the joke, and what that represents in society and how that might be problematic. 

 

Michael Simeone: So we don't want to close read this article too much. But the idea of saying it's a joke, but it's not is not trying to say that you should interpret all of this stuff literally. It's just trying to say this humor is one approach at social commentary. 

 

Shawn Walker: Yes, but the note of a joke becomes important because then later that day, we have Eric Trump tweets out that they're going to cancel  Paw Patrol and this gets five and a half thousand likes 1.2 thousand comments and other almost 2000 shares. So he tweets and posts on Facebook, and there's no mention of this is a joke. The mention is the liberals are coming for Paw Patrol. They can't even handle a children's show with a dog who's a cop. 

 

Michael Simeone: Yes and 5000 likes is going viral. And so we've go from this You know what looks like some kind of scattered comments and sarcasm leading up to it. The New York Times article says that there is some kind of contingency out there that's coming for Paw Patrol in a joking way as a way of kind of making commentary. But then we're shifting over one more frame of meaning to say they actually want to cancel Paw Patrol. So we've gone from kind of jokingly suggesting that it should be canceled as a form of commentary about, hey, let's reflect on what kinds of stuff we're showing kids. And I'm not sure if everyone who shared any of those memes exactly had those thoughts in their mind. But I certainly think that the critics notebook piece in The New York Times was trying to call attention to these tweets as a form of social commentary. Not a groundswell of voices who are just calling for the cancellation of this television program. That was nowhere in that piece. 

 

Shawn Walker: Yeah, exactly. They're seeing these memes as criticism of sort of the archetype of the good cop and how we need to have a broader discussion, but we have this tweet and Facebook post from Eric Trump and then the same day We have two articles, one on Fox News.com  another in the Western Journal and the Western Journal article, they post on their Facebook pages. And that's shared a combined almost 130,000 times. 

 

Michael Simeone: And this is all about implying that they're coming for Paw Patrol that they're going to cancel it and that the key reference for being upset about canceling Paw Patrol is this New York Times piece on the 10th. 

 

Shawn Walker: Yes. And then in this conservative article, a Western journal piece, it's now turned into leftist Twitter trolls were quick to respond by condemning the children show for having the gall to portray one of its characters as a morally upstanding police dog. And then they use an example of two tweets as evidence of this extreme outrage on the left. And then this article gets shared a little over 130,000 times. 

 

Michael Simeone: So the article about the thing gets shared an order of magnitude or two more than the thing that it's actually talking about.

 

Shawn Walker: Yeah, that's kind of mind blowing in  many ways.

 

Michael Simeone: Yes, we're all still on June 10. Here in terms of the timeline, or did we make it all the way to the 11th? 

 

Shawn Walker: No, we're still on June 10. And we're not done with June 10. Yet, there's still more. 

 

Michael Simeone: Tell me more what happened more on June 10? I have a couple things about June 11. 

 

Shawn Walker: So then Fox News also publishes a similar article, and they amp up from sort of trolls to, you know, basically a herd of crowd. And they link to some portion of their website about viral videos, which has nothing to do with Paw Patrol as their their evidence for the viralness of the calls to cancel Paw Patrol. 

 

Michael Simeone : So this Fox News piece represents that there's a kind of virtual mob coming for Paw Patrol? 

 

Shawn Walker: Yes. 

 

Michael Simeone: And their pieces of evidence are this New York Times article? 

 

Shawn Walker : They mentioned the New York Times article, and then there's a link to the entertainment section of their website about content that goes viral. And if you follow that link, there's nothing about Paw Patrol on that page. 

 

Michael Simeone : So this is like a game of telephone mixed with kind of game on the internet, which has to Make sure that the word that is at the end of your sentence about evidence is hyperlinked. And as long as that's the case, then you've got evidence, like we talked about this and a couple episodes ago, right? Most people don't click links. 

 

Shawn Walker: Yeah. And this is the third or fourth link in the story. So you're probably already tired. 

 

Michael Simeone: You're exhausted. Yeah, you've just been,

 

Shawn Walker: You're not following that. So that's happened on that's the 10th. So those are some of the big events and big articles on the 10th. So we go from New York Times, moments after the New York Times is published. We have over 130,000 plus circulation of these articles, as well as another 2000 shares of Eric Trump's tweets and Facebook posts. 

 

Michael Simeone: Okay, so this is blowing up now. And so by the 11th, we're hitting some conservative media. So Fox News has a piece on how liberals are calling for the cancellation of Paw Patrol

 

Shawn Walker: This is an on-air piece, right? 

 

Michael Simeone: On-air piece, yes. And then Ben Shapiro does a podcast where he comes out and is completely outraged with the demands to cancel Splash Mountain, Live PD and Paw Patrol, but this is completely out of hand and that the whole world has gone crazy. And so in about 24 hours, we've moved from New York Times saying people are making these tongue in cheek jokes about eliminating Paw Patrol. But we should really think seriously about these jokes for a minute, because this is kind of a teachable moment about how we represent police and all kinds of media. And in 24 hours, we've moved from that to the liberals are calling for the cancellation of a beloved television program. Everybody pay attention to this because this is just an example of canceled culture, canceled culture being this idea that if we don't like something or something's politically incorrect, right, this is just an extension of the whole PC culture frame of everything needing to be eliminated, that's deemed to be slightly offensive, but we pick this up and get upset about it. And in a 24 hour period, we've kind of gone to a genuine outrage and really a call to action to push back against people who are trying to cancel the things and it's of a piece with the actual cancellations of the television show Live PD and the television show Cops such that by the 11th or the 12th of June, you have tweets popping up that ask, Hey, is Paw Patrol canceled? Is it true that Paw Patrol got canceled? And so something very interesting happened where nobody ever called for the cancellation of Paw Patrol on the second on the 10th. Nobody discussed the cancellation of Paw Patrol in the New York Times. But by the 11th and the 12th 11th in the evening and the 12th people are seriously wondering if the show got canceled and begging television network Nickelodeon to bring the show back. 

 

Shawn Walker: And we even have big political figures that are getting involved. So on the 11th Tom Cotton tweeted about can't cancel Papa troll again, like you're saying he lumped it in with these other television shows that are being canceled like Cops and PD Live and then now you have the third item is don't cancel our beloved Paw Patrol. 

 

Michael Simeone : Yeah, exactly. So where do we go from here after this event on the 10th or the 11th And what happens after that? 

 

Shawn Walker: We have Donald Trump Jr. On the 13th. And in search to tweet out some, some comments, he tweets out my favorite meme, which is sort of Corella DeVille from the Disney TV show or movie 101 Dalmatians. But it's been modified to look like Nancy Pelosi holding Chase the police dog from Paw Patrol and that Nancy Pelosi wants to cancel Paw Patrol his Facebook posts which is shared about 10,000 times on the 13th. And, and after that, it just seems to kind of die off like now it's sort of disappeared from social media, in that we're not continuing to circulate these sort of Paw Patrol issues. It just seems like it showed up for a couple of days, then. Just off a cliff.

 

Michael Simeone:  Yeah, this Facebook post which happened a couple days after Fox News decided to air it. I'll just read it just to kind of give everyone a sense of what got you know, 30,000 comments or 4000 comments. 10,000 shares something like 30,000 likes. "Now they want to cancel kid's cartoons because They don't depict cops as evil when they come for Paw Patrol, you know, they've lost their way. Nothing can't be made into an issue by the lady." And I'm assuming that the lady here is Nancy Pelosi dressed as Cruella de Vil going to go out on a limb here, but just notice here that by the time we get to this Trump Jr, tweet, we are talking about canceling Kids cartoons because they don't to pick cops as evil. And where we started with this was, I hope you get cancelled. So we've moved from, you know, somewhere in early June, somebody on Twitter says I hope you get cancelled or euthanized Paw Patrol all the way to now they want to cancel kids programs, right? So we're talking about a total like maybe at max hundreds of either tweets or retweets who are making these comments about Paw Patrol. The vast majority of them have some irony in them. We've gone from that to thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people sharing and interacting with a post that says now they want to cancel Kids cartoons.

 

Shawn Walker: I mean, so if we look at Just on Facebook alone these shares by some of the more prominent members and prominent news organizations, this represents in just a couple of days 200,000 shares of just a handful of articles that are discussing how the left is going crazy, and they want to cancel Paw Patrol, even though the genesis of this was actually a tweet from the Paw Patrol account in solidarity with Black Lives Matter that says let's be quiet and let's listen and let's elevate other voices. And then it turned into we're going to euthanize Chase the German Shepherd police dog on Paw Patrol.

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah, and to put this in perspective, we pulled all the tweets that mentioned Paw Patrol or the Paw Patrol Twitter account from Twitter, then it returns something like 20,000 tweets in total going all the way back to February. Now there's some ins and outs of getting data from Twitter that we'll talk about at some other time. But the basic count was there's a total of 800 tweets that mentioned Paw Patrol in our collection between June 2 and June 10. So 800 after that, you're looking at something like 18 19,000 tweets after June 10. So 800 tweets or retweets or mentions before June 10 18,000 19,000, after June 10. So it's not uncommon to see this, where the response to the suppose it outrage is far bigger, far more coordinated, far more viral than whatever it was it was responding to. And so in this case, though, it's this interesting myth that somehow Paw Patrol was getting canceled. 

 

Shawn Walker: And if we look at Facebook, we're looking for post that mentioned Paw Patrol and either defund or cancel from the first of June until the 19th. There are 759 posts, but there's 759 posts have more than a million interactions and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of shares.

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah, what do you make of that?

 

Shawn Walker: So this is just a couple pieces of information that are being shared and if we go back to our first Episode. So I would posit to say that a lot of these shares are we can't defend Paw Patrol share. And there's not even a reading of the article, a lot of the source information. So we have this emotional, visceral response to this article with a lambasted title. And then it just gets out of hand and starts to circulate, and then starts to be used as a political meme with the sort of Nancy Pelosi post that was made on the 13th. 

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah, and in our first episode, we talked a lot about how when people are bad actors online, they're able to create or kind of deploy approaches to misinformation that defy typical information literacy training. So this idea that if you're going to click on a link to a reference, then you want to use that to check it out. And that kind of deliberate misinformation context. You might link to a story from some newspaper that somebody invented a month ago. But in this case, it was the New York Times. This wasn't a sophisticated misinformation campaign in that sense. All you had to do do is click on the story, or Google the story, The New York Times comes up and the New York Times is reasonably credible, such that you shouldn't suspect them of misinformation. But people don't even do that. Right. So just to talk about how a lot of times folks won't even engage in that first gear of trying to understand misinformation, which is already really fraught with all kinds of problems, as we had discussed, but sometimes we don't even get that far. So all you needed to do was just read three sentences, three sentences of that New York Times article, and all of a sudden, it makes sense that they're not trying to cancel Paw Patrol. But people don't even get to the point of reading three sentences.

 

Shawn Walker:  And if you look at the comments, so I scrolled through not an exhaustive list, but I've scrolled through a plethora of thousands of some of these comments, and we see a lot of folks that are posting saying, well, I love to watch Paw Patrol with my kids, or there's actually a lot of I love to watch Paw Patrol with my grandchildren. So you can't cancel Paw Patrol. And so you see this sort of visceral comment which connects back to this visceral

 

Michael Simeone: People are afraid Yeah. They're, they're actually concerned. So they believe it's true. Please don't cancel Paw Patrol, one of the number one terms to show up when we analyze the language of the Paw Patrol tweets, one of the number one words that came up by frequency was the word please. And it's associated with please don't cancel, or please save Paw Patrol or other phrases of that kind. So a lot of people are interacting with Paw Patrol social media posts on Twitter and Facebook asking that the show be saved because they really think that it's going to be canceled. So what do we learn from all of us that we went from June 2 to the middle of June, and from a we are muted in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, or melanated voices or amplify melanated voices all the way to the liberals are coming for Paw Patrol. Save our station essentially. What do we learn from this whole thing? 

 

Shawn Walker: I think this is an excellent example of how we can mix fact and fiction. So there is truth that there were a handful of tweets asking for Paw Patrol to be canceled, but there's not a outcry. There's no information from Nick Jr, or Nickelodeon, that they're going to cancel the show. So we take the truth of Look, here's a tweet, there's evidence, and then we turn it into something that it's not. 

 

Michael Simeone : Yeah, there's not really consensus of what a groundswell or what a chorus of protests really looks like on Twitter. So when someone says there's people calling for Paw Patrol to be canceled, there's no evidence produced in that kind of representation. You know, we collectively, right as media, consumers don't always have good standards, or a mutual understanding with people reporting about social media, about what constitutes a groundswell or a chorus of voices, or a trend even. And so that can get in the way. The other thing that's interesting about this to me though, I couldn't find a bot account that was interacting with this Paw Patrol situation. I certainly wouldn't rule out that bots or troll accounts are active here. But this isn't one of those events that seems to be shot through with bots and troll activity. 

 

Shawn Walker: We also see the evidence of what we call the long tail. So we have a small number of very connected and powerful accounts like Donald Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric Trump, for example, Fox News are circulating information. But that only accounts for a couple hundred thousand of these shares and interactions, but we have about a million. So there's this long tail of much smaller groups single individual sharing this into their timeline that continues to inflate this information and keeps it in the public's consciousness over time. So we have this sort of initial shot from big media players that may let it hang out for a couple of days. And then it continues to spread and smaller forums over time to keep the information flowing.

 

Michael Simeone: Yeah. And what I think that idea of making sure that it's persistent is really important, I think, to the misinforming effect of this total event, right? We didn't need troll bots or a coordinated campaign to misinform people. All we needed was political polarization. So if people were pulling Politically enough, then this liberals coming to cancel a cartoon made a lot more sense than if we weren't politically polarized on its face. This is not really a credible story that people are coming after a children's cartoon just because but if you're used to the idea that liberals are completely outrageous and nothing is sacred, and all they want to do is cancel and delete things that ruffle their feathers, then you believe it automatically. 

 

Shawn Walker: And we add some fuel to that ruffling of those feathers with strategic use of visuals.

 

Michael Simeone:  Yes, yes. And look, we're used to this idea. And a lot of times, you know, when we talk to people about misinformation, and they want to study misinformation, one of the number one things that people say is I want to study how misinformation causes political polarization. I want to look at how it creates divisions. But I think sometimes that can be backwards, right? We should be thinking about polarization and political division as a prerequisite to be misinformed or a specific vulnerability to misinformation is being Divided politically, if you look at the voting patterns in Congress, political division was happening long before social media even showed up as a technology. Here is a nice example of how political polarization actually was a great place for misinformation to be sown. I don't want to call it on accident because I don't know what the editors of Fox News are thinking. And I don't know what the specific intentions are of some of these social media accounts or Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr. I don't want to conjecture right now about their particular intent. Like that's, that's for a different day. However, it does seem like this was an own goal, in the sense that it was it would be a very simple thing to to resolve, but because people were in such pitched battle with one another ideologically, then that misinformation flourished, even without a coordinated campaign by a bad actor, or you know, state sponsored intelligence service. 

 

Shawn Walker: These articles were strategically placed into these pads like you were discussing right? So there's these different points in the network or social networks where, you know, we're all connected. So they strategically drop these articles at moments in time over a series of a couple of days, which causes this uproar. Like you were saying it's not that necessarily social media always causes partisanship, it's that we already have this partisanship. So social media is a vehicle to efficiently deliver misinformation packages to the right groups to make it spread, and cause these types of outbreaks.

 

Michael Simeone:  Yeah, and I take your point that this misinformation event was not intentionless, and that it does seem like there was some intentional stoking of outrage. And so I don't want to say that this was an accidental misinformation event. It it wasn't. I just feel like there's some kind of distinction here between people inflating the representativeness of certain communications and pieces of data, or just misrepresenting a piece of journalism and say, a campaign like a troll botnet attack or something like that, right. We should have room in our vocabulary of in general of thinking through misinformation events, as Those things being very different from one another. But that kind of political partisanship and that division made it possible for this dead simple approach to create a whole lot of misinformation. And by the end of it, you'll have people begging for their children's show to come back on the air.

 

Shawn Walker: Well, and there was even an impact because if we look at the Nick Jr. website today, I went to the Internet Archive and looked at archived copies of this webpage, going back into 2017. 

 

Michael Simeone: Because we're professionals. 

 

Shawn Walker: Yes, and Chase, who's the police dog has always been the icon for Paw Patrol. So in the menu, you see a picture of Chase, and now they've switched it to the dalmation, the firefighting dog as of the 17th of June. So Chase is no longer the main dog on the menu. You have to actually go into the Paw Patrol website to see Chase. 

 

Michael Simeone: Well, he's kind of like a lightning rod at this point.

 

Shawn Walker:  Yes, yes. 

 

Michael Simeone: And not because he had to be just that's where we are. 

 

Shawn Walker: Yes. I mean, he was turned into a lightning rod by I would argue a quite a bit of bad journalism that then got spread. 

 

Michael Simeone: Any final thoughts? 

 

Shawn Walker : I want to add two final thoughts. One is that Paw Patrol or the producers of Paw Patrol haven't been involved in any of this coverage. So there's no official comment. They are canceling. They're not canceling. There's just been some silence. And second is the uneven coverage. They've had very little coverage of this outside of very ultra conservative media. Your usual suspects like msnbc or CNN didn't pick up these stories, Fox picks up the stories for a few minutes and then now it's gone. So there's been really uneven coverage yet. This has been shared hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times. :

Michael Simeone: Thanks for joining us for questions or comments, use the email address datascience@asu.edu. And to check out more about what we're doing, try library.asu.edu/data