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Misinformation campaigns are murky mixtures of truth, lies and sincere beliefs - lessons from the epidemic

In this environment, false narratives such as the claim that the virus is engineered, originated as a biological weapon, or that the symptoms of COVID-19 are caused by 5G wireless communication technology – have spread like wildfire across social media and other communication platforms. Some of these false narratives play a role in disinformation campaigns

By Kate Starbird, Associate Professor of Design and Engineering at the Human Center, University of Washington

Fake news - from jumpstory
Fake news - from jumpstory

The COVID-19 pandemic has also spawned an information overload epidemic that includes a vast and complex mix of information, misinformation, and disinformation.

In this environment, false narratives such as the claim that the virus is engineered, originated as a biological weapon, or that the symptoms of COVID-19 are caused by 5G wireless communication technology – have spread like wildfire across social media and other communication platforms. Some of these false narratives play a role in disinformation campaigns.

The idea of ​​disinformation often conjures up an image of propaganda in a totalitarian state, but the reality is much more complex. Although information serves an agenda, it is often masked by facts, promoted by innocent and often well-intentioned people.

As a researcher who examines how communication technologies are used during crises, I have found that this mix of types of information makes it difficult for people, including those who build and operate online platforms, to distinguish between an organic rumor and an organized disinformation campaign. And this challenge is not getting any easier as the efforts to understand and respond to COVID-19 combine in the US with the political processes leading up to the presidential election.

Rumors, misinformation and disinformation

Rumors spread and have always spread during crisis events. Crises are often accompanied by uncertainty about the event and anxiety about its effects, as well as uncertainty about how to respond. People naturally want to resolve this uncertainty and anxiety, and often try to do so through collective sense-making. It is a process of coming together to gather information and theorize about the unfolding event. Rumors are a natural byproduct.

Rumors are not necessarily bad. But the same conditions that produce rumors also make people vulnerable to disinformation, which is worse. Unlike rumors and misinformation, which may or may not be intentional, disinformation is false or misleading information that is disseminated for a specific purpose, usually a political or economic purpose.
The term originated in the Soviet Union, where it was used to try to change the way people understood and interpreted events in the world. It is useful to think of disinformation not as a single piece of information or even a single story, but as a campaign, a set of actions and narratives produced and spread to deceive the public for political purposes.
Lawrence Martin-Bitman, a former Soviet intelligence officer who defected from what was then Czechoslovakia and later became a professor of disinformation, described how disinformation campaigns are often built around a real or perceived core. They take advantage of biases, divisions and inconsistencies that exist in the group or company that is the target audience of the campaign. And they often employ "unwitting agents" to spread their content and promote their goals.

Disinformation can exist on several levels and scales. Although one disinformation campaign can have a specific goal - for example changing public opinion about a political candidate or policy - using dissociative information can undermine democratic societies on a deeper level.

The case of the "Plandemic" video

Distinguishing between unintentional misinformation and intentional misinformation is a critical challenge. It is often difficult to infer intent, especially in online spaces where the original source of information can be obscured. In addition, disinformation can be spread by people who believe it to be true. And unintentional misinformation can be strategically amplified as part of a disinformation campaign. Definitions and distinctions get messy quickly.
Take for example the case of the "Flandemic" video that exploded on social media platforms in May 2020. The video contained a variety of false claims and conspiracy theories about COVID-19. The problematic aspect that came up is that the video recommended not wearing masks on the grounds that they would "activate" the virus, and laid the foundations for the eventual refusal of the vaccine against COVID-19.

Although many of these false stories have appeared elsewhere on the web, the "Flandemic" video brought them together in a single 26-minute video. The video went viral on Facebook and received millions of views on YouTube before it was removed by the platforms for containing harmful medical misinformation.
As it spread, it was actively promoted and reinforced by public Facebook groups and Twitter communities associated with the anti-vaccine movement, the Canon conspiracy theory community, and pro-Trump political activism.

But was this a case of misinformation or misinformation that was deliberately spread? The answer lies in understanding how and why - the video went viral.

The protagonist of the video was Dr. Judy Mikovich, an alleged scientist who previously promoted false theories in the medical field, for example the claim that vaccines cause autism. Before the release of the video, she promoted a new book, in which many of the narratives that appeared in the "Flandemic" video were presented.

One of the narratives was an accusation against Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. At the time, Fauci was the focus of criticism for promoting social distancing measures that some conservatives saw as damaging to the economy. Public comments by Mikovich and her associates show that damaging Fauci's reputation was a specific target of their campaign.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the "Flandmic" video, a concerted effort was made to raise Mikovich's profile, which was formed on several social media platforms. A new Twitter account was set up in her name, quickly gaining thousands of followers. She has appeared in interviews with news outlets affiliated with the Republican Party such as The Epoch Times and True Pundit. On Twitter, Mikovich greeted her new followers with the message: "Soon, Dr. Fauci, everyone will know who you really are."
The Sinclair Network, which owns and operates 191 local TV stations across the US, recently held an interview with Mikovich in which he repeated the main claims in the film "Flandmic". In broadcasting this program, Sinclair used the circulation and reliability of the local news to expose new audiences to false - and potentially dangerous - stories. The network is reconsidering its decision after receiving criticism. However, according to reports, the interview was posted for some time on the network's website and broadcast by one station.
Against this background, it appears that Mikovich and her collaborators had several goals beyond sharing her inaccurate theories about COVID-19. Among other things, these are economic, political and reputational motives. However, it's also possible that Mikovich honestly believes the information she shared, as do the millions of people who have shared and retweeted her content online.
What next?
In the United States, as the COVID-19 pandemic clouds the presidential election, we are likely to continue to see disinformation campaigns that are deployed for political, economic, and reputational gain. Local activist groups will use these techniques to spread false and misleading stories about the disease and the election. Foreign agents will try to join the fray, often by infiltrating existing groups and trying to direct them towards their goals.

For example, there will likely be attempts to use the threat of COVID-19 to scare people away from participating in surveys. Along with these direct attacks on the integrity of the elections, there are probably also indirect effects on the people's perception of the integrity of the elections - both from honest activists and a load of agents of disinformation campaigns.

Efforts to shape attitudes and policies around voting are already underway, for example attempts to suppress voting and attempts to create an image of fraud in voting by mail. Some of this rhetoric stems from honest criticism intended to provoke action to strengthen the electoral systems. Other narratives, for example unsubstantiated claims of "voter fraud", serve the primary purpose of undermining trust in these systems.

History shows that this fusion of activism and active measures, of foreign and domestic actors, and of wise and unwitting agents, is nothing new. It is certain that the difficulty of distinguishing between these and those does not become easier in the connected age. But a better understanding of these intersections can help researchers, journalists, communication platform designers, policy makers and society in general to develop strategies to reduce the effects of disinformation at this challenging moment.

to the article on The Conversation website

More of the topic in Hayadan:

8 תגובות

  1. Well, here's a question: would we agree to a postal election system in our country? A method in which forms are sent to voters in an unregistered and certainly not organized manner, the elections are certainly not secret, huge amounts of envelopes are "lost" or do not reach their destination, or are rejected in huge quantities due to suspicious findings, and to all this we must add the irregularities in the US mail, which is notorious Almost like Israel Post.

    "The chaos in New York is a warning about November's elections: Voting is being transformed by the pandemic. But no state has built new election infrastructure. No state has the time or the money to make sure vote-counting will go smoothly in November. And just about every state is about to be hit with a massive surge of absentee ballots.”

    And after that we insist that whoever draws attention to this potentially inexhaustible source of fakes is spreading "fake news"? Maybe the pike is in those who try to sweep everything under the carpet? And what are their interests? After all, the enthusiasm in the ranks of the Democratic voters for the dead horse they put in front of them is fading like a gathering of people that something inside them begins to cough in these days of the epidemic.

  2. Where is the proof that the virus was not engineered and not a biological weapon released even if accidentally? It seems like reverse propaganda. That is, a fake that accuses others of being a fake. The left is an expert at this

  3. A person's ability to get close to the truth is quite difficult, this can be due to the quality of the information that is biased as a result of political and economic interests, even historical information can be biased as a result of the worldview of the researcher or the storyteller in the distant past, and also the ability of the person to understand information and analyze it when in the pluralistic world of Today (if you don't live under a dictatorship of thoughts that controls information) then you can always find something that will "confirm" what you believe in and no matter how delusional it is there will always be some guru around the web who will tell you what you want to hear, even the media that are supposed to convey information They have an ideology and also economic interests that they promote, and at the end who consumes this information we also need a degree of skepticism not as a value in itself but as a tool to get closer to the truth, and then the question arises, do the people who are developing in our human society have the ability to seriously analyze the information?
    Throw in some Asian fusion flavored health idea with all sorts of mysterious powers and it will develop into a large community of outwardly window-dressing people who believe in it wholeheartedly without doubts,
    So what are the chances of people getting closer to the truth around the web or surfing to a guru who will provide them with what they want to hear, even smart people doctors held wrong knowledge at the beginning of the epidemic and the central media also chose the extremists among them the deniers, this thing has a severe effect on the trust of the general public, Imagine in a completely imaginary country what kind of media has something to do with travel companies and stopping tourist travel will hurt his pocket who he will choose to put in the main news the one who will tell you that this is something very serious that reminds of the Spanish flu or something that is convenient for them to tell you that this is just hysteria and that Normal flu? So how do you analyze information in this world? So in the case of an epidemic, you go to WHO, the World Health Organization, and you know that there is a Chinese influence there, but the information is ultimately available, in addition, you cross-examine with some senior officials on the subject of epidemics in the world, and you get a relatively good picture of what is going to happen
    Bill Gates, in his famous lecture from 2016, who foresaw one by one the blow we suffered both in terms of morbidity and the economic aspect in general, took information from the experts in the field of
    which he was exposed to in his philanthropic work in Africa against plagues and malaria where everything was known,
    After that you ask what measures were successful in dealing with previous epidemics like Sars because there is no need to reinvent the wheel
    And you check this in countries in the far east, for example, a country like Taiwan, democracy, masks from kindergarten, including grades XNUMX to XNUMX, inside the classroom and outside, including all adults in any public place, all ages, strict disinfection, no corner rounding, and you do a coffee fist, they are the experts, not you, and the fact is, come in and see the The numbers there without
    Close to now 7 have passed away and about 480 infections are accumulating for us, more have already died than were infected there since the beginning of the epidemic. But here we continue to argue whether the masks work or not in a hospital you sometimes see even staff members walking around without masks just unbelievable

  4. And one more thing - it is clear that electromagnetic radiation does not produce viruses...
    But it affects the electrical current of the brain... a kind of stupidity and violence?
    And unfocused pains? A simple and obvious explanation...a polar water molecule
    It happened to me personally: from 1976 to 1985 I suffered from migraine and it stopped for a while
    I understood it to be tetrazine food coloring.
    From 2008 to 2014 I suffered from vomiting almost every night and it stopped
    When I realized that it was a cumin spice, I added it to my diet myself.
    From Pesach to Parshat and I begged, my Shabbat candles were extinguished in a quarter of an hour or less and I searched for a spirit and did not find it...until I searched for the candles of
    The same package [50 in a bag] and I dug inside the candle itself and took a bag
    New and now fine, thank God, the problem was with the fuse.
    A corona is a couple of rays from two-sided gold-colored yal keys
    and connected down near the head with a smooth strip. An opportunity to correct some idiosyncrasies, exaggerations that humanity has drifted into recently.
    A general example - clinical depression can be from a serotonin deficiency or from a prolactin deficiency or from a testosterone deficiency or from fatigue [Ritalin]
    And it will not help to give a serotonin recycler if the problem is for another reason.

  5. In addition to no truth from a private source, there is one from a government source from the state.
    K like...corona.

  6. Funding communication through advertisements is a cause of the problem.
    There is a possibility to finance with tax inventions for the government and there is a possibility to finance
    through a fee that an internet provider will distribute to a radio station device
    Paying the singers. And that's in addition to a cash payment for a sheet of newspaper that you buy
    At the kiosk - the price of paper, printing and marketing will be greatly reduced by avoiding a piece
    space by advertisements. And why almost everyone is convinced that advertisements
    Is she a sacred cow? Because advertisers stole their minds.

  7. Asbar is right.

    The scope experiment determined that the truth is a variable pie.

    I know because I edited it myself.

    It turns out that the larger the diameter of the circle, the larger the ratio between the diameter and the circumference of the circle.

    I demand that the academic institutions immediately repeat my perimeter experiment, and that the geometry books be modified to conform to spiral geometry.

    I will post a YouTube soon.

  8. There is an age-old philosophical question do we distinguish between truth and lies?
    The answer to this question in words is doomed to failure.

    The same problem exists in science as well
    Is permanent pie true or false?
    Is variable pie true or false?
    In science it is possible to answer these questions, but the answer is not in words but in actions.
    The scope experiment determined that the truth is a variable pie.

    A. Asbar

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