On Texas Agriculture Chief's Facebook, Fake News Flows Freely

December 6, 2016 AT 2:30 PM

By Jim Malewitz

Thousands of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller's followers on social media might believe that terrorists are — in his words —preparing "for their jihad against the state and our nation” from a training compound outside of Houston.

Some of his Facebook followers might also believe that an apartment complex forced a Texan to take down his American flag for fear of offending Muslims.

Or that, during a recent trip to Cuba, a smiling President Obama held a t-shirt displaying Che Guevara, the late Marxist revolutionary.

These are just a few of the completely fabricated or otherwise unsupported stories that Texas’ agriculture chief has promoted on Facebook and Twitter.

Miller, who is said to be in the running for U.S. agriculture secretary in President-elect Donald Trump’s White House, has gained notoriety for controversial social media postings such as a tweet that called Hillary Clinton the C-word and a Facebook post that endorsed the atomic bombing of the “Muslim world."

But at a time of heightened awareness about the power of “fake news” to shape Americans’ perception of politics and policy — and perhaps influence the most recent presidential election — the Republican statewide officeholder also stands out as a prolific sower of such misinformation.

“I think probably a few times, you might be right — we got duped,” Miller said in an interview this week, adding that he doesn’t personally post everything to his social media accounts. “Put something up that might not be true. Didn’t do it maliciously."

Miller, who said he gets his news “from all over,” said his team tries to respond when it discovers it has shared a fake story.

“We take it down, most of the time," he said.

A Texas Tribune analysis of a portion of Miller's social media history identified 10 postings of demonstrably false, misleading or unsupported information. The information most often came in the form of a link to an obscure ultra-conservative website posted with commentary from Miller. Some of these posts dated back to late 2014, when Miller was campaigning for his current job. Others were far more recent, including the headline of an apocryphal story about pop star Lady Gaga that he posted last week (see below). As of Friday evening, it had generated 309 comments and 210 shares on Facebook.

The former lawmaker and calf roping champion is only modestly influential on Twitter, where he had 5,420 followers as of Friday. But he carries incredible clout on Facebook, where he frequently boasts of his nearly 334,000 followers and counting.

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