We all love the Internet. I mean, what’s not to love about something that allows you to watch cute cat videos, chat with your friends who live half a world away, and allow you to get the news of the day with just a click of a button?
But we all know that the Internet has a dark side too. It can be used to trick and confuse people who are researching information to make decisions about who to vote for. That kind of thing used to be limited to places like 4chan and other internet forums, but unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more mainstream. You can scroll through your Facebook or Twitter feed and not know that you’re following or are friends with a bot that is designed to look like a real human but is actually designed to spread false information. But worse than that, real people can also spread disinformation online. It’s not just bots and foreign actors trying to interfere in our elections. It could be Uncle Jim posting something that he didn’t take the time to verify.
It’s getting harder and harder to tell what is the truth and what is a lie on the internet. We are all familiar with Photoshop, which can be deployed at any time to make a picture tell a lie. Now the same can be said of videos using deepfake technology, even videos that are purportedly live.
But it’s getting even worse. Now Republican politicians are ramping up the action and using their platforms to spread disinformation to voters. This election year will make 2016 look like a day at the beach. It is a serious problem if we can’t even trust the politicians we have elected to represent us to tell the truth. And yet, just a few weeks ago, Senator Amanda Chase, who has announced her campaign for Governor in 2021, was sharing verifiably false information about Black Lives Matter and telling her followers to “guard [their] families and homes tonight.” She literally used false information and dog whistle political rhetoric to tell people to pick up their guns and get ready for a fight. We all know that Senator Chase is a little outside the mainstream, but even for her, this is beyond the pale.
And Senator Chase isn’t the only one jumping on the disinformation bandwagon. In April, the Republican Party of Virginia sent out a press release that copied and pasted information from viral social media posts that were full of inaccurate conspiracy theories around COVID-19 and encouraging people to ignore social distancing guidelines in the name of “liberty”. They used their significant platform and position of trust to attempt to mislead members of the press and in turn, have them mislead the public. If people actually did what the RPV was suggesting, it could have resulted in people getting sick and even dying from coronavirus.
This is entirely unacceptable. If we can’t trust elected officials and the state party, who can we as voters trust? It’s hard to know for sure, but this article has some good tips and tricks to spot disinformation. And here at Progress Virginia, we are using sophisticated social listening tools to monitor right-wing disinformation closely. We are watching for trends to see what messages right-wing disinformation outlets are pushing, what is being picked up by more mainstream audiences, and determining how to respond to it.
We are working with a network of people across the country to identify this stuff and flag it for voters and journalists. If you want to be in the know about all things disinformation as we go into election season, follow us on social media and join our email list. We’ll make sure to send out warnings about the most egregious disinformation campaigns out there so you can be aware and tell your friends what’s true and what’s not.