Did You Spot Last Week’s Disinformation?

Questioning the truth

I’m assuming that all of you reading this are fully aware that Americans were blasted with a ton of disinformation during the 2016 election, and that a lot of it originated in Russia. Well, I’m sorry to tell you that not only are we still being blasted by disinformation, but it isn’t just coming from Russia. Domestic groups saw how effective it was and now they’re using those same tactics to attack and divide us.

What happened last week

The first Democratic primary debates were the catalyst for a lot of disinformation. Trolls attacked those leading the way and tried to amplify attention on those who are way down in the polls.

First up, after each of the debates, trolls spread messages through their social media networks and encourages their followers to vote for some of the weaker candidates (as far as polling goes) on every online poll they could find. NBC reported on what they found at the pro-Trump community message groups following the first debate; Mother Jones had the story about who those communities were pushing after the second debate. Unfortunately for all of us, less trust-worthy news sites had headlines that touted the results of those online polls, leaving seeds of disinformation in the minds of readers.

Then, following many news stories that Kamala Harris had done well in the second debate and was expected to see a big boost in polling and fundraising, a lot of social media posts suddenly appeared that was, essentially, this election’s version of the birtherism lie. Buzzfeed did great reporting on the origins of these stories — they came from–surprise, surprise–Neo-Nazi and conspiracy sites.

Yesterday, the New York Times broke a story about how a popular Joe Biden website, that upon initial inspection looks like an official campaign website, in fact is a spoof. It is designed to make Joe look bad. This site wasn’t created by Russia. No, in fact it was created by a consultant who is working for Trump’s re-election campaign. He’s already built websites for Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, too.

It’s all about creating chaos and depressing turnout. People get turned off from the candidates and often, from politics altogether.

What you can do about it

The best advice I have for you is this: Be skeptical about where your news is coming from. Is it coming from a source you can trust? If an individual is stating some fact, or sharing a meme with information, do they share where their source of information comes from? Do you trust that source? Are the headlines you read being rather sensational? Are you reading past the headline? Keep in mind that people who write stories for news organizations almost never write the headline–the headline’s job is to get you to read the article.

Beyond being skeptical, I would also encourage you to seek out a wide range of trustworthy sources and people from whom you get information. Don’t fall into the left’s version of the Fox News trap — where all your information comes from one place.

Just remember this. The point of disinformation is to confuse you and discourage you from voting. If you’re on social media and someone is being very divisive and/or discouraging about a candidate, think twice. It could be that a fellow American is tired and discouraged by the news (which is certainly understandable), but that person could very well be part of a paid operation, either foreign or domestic, to turn you off from politics or a candidate enough not to vote. Don’t let them win that fight.

Further reading

The Problem Isn’t Fake News From Russia. It’s Us.

Russian trolls are coming for 2020, smarter than ever, Clemson researchers warn

How to combat fake news and disinformation

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