‘Just like politics is local, misinformation is also local.’
NOV. 24, 2020 • 21 DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION
This is the last edition of FAHRENHEIT 411, a special newsletter on disinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 presidential election. It is produced in partnership with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that studies extremism, and written by Molly Boigon, an investigative reporter at the Forward.
Sign up here to get Forward newsletters in your inbox.
Let Molly know what you think: [email protected]
THE 411: ANTISEMITES CLAIM THAT ANTIFA IS A JEWISH ORGANIZATION
Antisemites pushed the claim during the week ending Nov. 19 that antifa, the loose collection of groups who oppose far-right movements and fascism, is a Jewish organization.
ISD reports that hateful actors have been sharing a video posted on Twitter Nov. 14 by Matthew Miller, a writer for the conservative site Post Millennial, that showed a protester in Washington, D.C., carrying a flag that said “Jewish Anti Fascist Action” and “antifa” on it, along with a red and black Star of David.
That video clip was shared 290 times, including once by a prominent antisemitic account with 35,000 followers. The chatter around the video was part of a total of 1,554 hateful posts and comments about the Jewish community more broadly across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit.
The video was also shared on BitChute, a platform known for extremist content, where it had been viewed nearly 4,000 times as of Tuesday.
The effort to link antifa and Jews is not new — ISD and others have documented conspiracy theories about the Jewish philanthropist George Soros funding antifa and about Jews being responsible for funding or empowering socialism and communism. But the most recent discussion in hateful groups “represents a notable attempt to blur the lines” and “incite hatred and conspiracies,” said a report from ISD.
One Twitter user posted on Nov. 14: “Antifa is communist and communism is a Jewish creation!”
Another sharer of the video said, on the same day: “It has always been them.”
Antisemites have also exploited clips from Jewish and Israeli news organizations to make their case. For example, users have linked to and screenshotted an opinion article from the Israeli daily Haaretz with the headline “Trump’s attacks on antifa are attacks on Jews,” a Forward article about Yiddish antifa anthems and a Forward article about a Jewish anti-fascist group from 1934.
Bhaskar Chakravorti is the dean of global business at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he launched Digital Planet, which studies the impact of digitalization and emerging technologies. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Boigon: Digital Planet just released its findings about which states are most vulnerable to disinformation. Why did you decide to do this research?
Chakravorti: This year, 2020, you have the combination of a pandemic, the political campaigns and everybody is spending so much time digitally. It’s the perfect moment for information of all kinds — good, bad or indifferent — to be coursing through the systems.
There has been an enormous amount of focus on what the social-media platforms have been doing or what they can or cannot do, from the perspective of moderating this tsunami of misinformation.
What we said is, let’s look at the other side of the picture. How does the picture change if you were to consider the demand side of misinformation — not that we are demanding misinformation, but we are consuming the information — and does it vary depending on where you live?
And it turns out, indeed, there is an enormous amount of variance depending on which part of the country you’re in, in terms of your vulnerability to misinformation as an average person.
Boigon: What factors put people at greater risk?
Chakravorti: We saw that there were several underlying drivers that helped explain the people who are more at risk.
One key driver has to do with where you are on the political spectrum and how polarized you are on that spectrum, and how ideological you are. That then translates into what media you use to get information of all kinds, and do you use only one kind of medium or do you triangulate your knowledge through absorbing information from different sources?
We also considered the nature of the media. Do you actually subscribe to it, or do you just go on the internet and get it? Or do you use social media to filter what you get?
Another factor we found played a role was age — we found that people who are older have a greater likelihood of liking something or sharing it, and that sort of plays a role, in terms of their risk of both consuming and sharing and thereby dispersing misinformation.
We looked at a number of different drivers, and then we determined where there were clusters of these different contributing factors in different parts of the country, and from that created a model for essentially where the risk was predominant.
We scored every state according to that, and we found that there are some states that are significantly more at risk than others.
Boigon: What did you learn about how the U.S. can more effectively fight disinformation?
Chakravorti: The nature and objectives of misinformation vary based on where you are, and therefore any counter strategy has to be mindful of that. It’s not enough for Facebook to put a label, or deprioritize, or fact-check this thing. If this is being done in such a super surgical focused way, then the counter strategy also needs to be focused along these lines.
You have to be mindful of the narrative that’s being developed, and how to create a counter narrative, and who is best positioned to do that. Maybe it could be done by Facebook and Twitter. If not it needs to be done by local media, including radio and television channels, and quite often Facebook pages that are set up with local residents, and then ground campaigns, whether they’re citizen groups or political campaigns.
All of this needs to involve a counter campaign that is locally tailored and that’s the way to manage and control the misinformation. Just like politics is local, misinformation is also local.
Molly reads — and writes — a lot about disinformation so you don’t have to. Here are three articles from other sources and three from the Forward worth a look.
Roiled by election, Facebook struggles to balance civility and growth
“Several employees said they were frustrated that to tackle thorny issues like misinformation, they often had to demonstrate that their proposed solutions wouldn’t anger powerful partisans or come at the expense of Facebook’s growth.” Read more.
How to deal with AI-enabled disinformation
“Not all disinformation campaigns that use bots will be picked up by bot detection software. It is therefore also important to have tools that can look at how suspect content is impacting the broader ecosystem.” Read more.
Why Newsmax supports Trump’s false voter-fraud claims
“The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Trump’s allies have explored buying Newsmax, as part of an effort to build a Trump-branded alternative to Fox News.” Read more.
The Forward’s coverage of the presidential transition and disinformation
We told readers about Tony Blinken, the next U.S. secretary of state, wrote about how Georgia Senate candidate Jon Ossoff thinks attacks on his fellow Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock are “baseless,” and covered Ivanka Trump’s move to the alternative social media platform Parler.
HATE TRACKERS, WEEK ENDING NOV. 19
ISD has developed a tracker that scrapes social-media platforms for hateful posts, then has researchers review each post, categorize hateful users based on their ideological motivations and use keywords to examine their conversations. To read more about ISD’s methodology, click here, and to see its full weekly report, click here.QAnon: Related messages increased to 15,293 this week from 15,191 last week.
Top 5 Changes in Online Communities:
22% in activity among anti-Black communities
64% in activity among anti-LGBTQ+ communities
39% in activity among anti-Muslim communities
73% in activity among QAnon communities
65% in activity among Groyper communities
Thanks for reading this edition of FAHRENHEIT 411. Let us know what you think: [email protected].