Inaccurate Data, Half-Truths, Disinformation, and Mob Violence

Uma Kalkar
Jan 14 · 10 min read

By Fiona Cece, Uma Kalkar, and Stefaan Verhulst

Image from Wikipedia.

The mob attack on the US Congress was alarming and the result of various efforts to undermine the trust in and legitimacy of longstanding democratic processes and institutions. In particular, the use of inaccurate data, half-truths, and disinformation to spread hate and division is considered a key driver behind last week’s attack. Altering data to support conspiracy theories or challenging and undermining the credibility of trusted data sources to allow for alternative narratives to flourish, if left unchallenged, has consequences — including the increased acceptance and use of violence both off-line and on-line.

Everyone working on data and information needs to be aware of the implications of altering or misusing data (including election results) to support malicious objectives. The January 6th riot is unfortunately not a unique event, nor is it contained to the US. Below, we provide a curation of findings and readings that illustrate the global danger of inaccurate data, half-truths, and willful disinformation.

Readings and Annotations

Al-Zaman, Md. Sayeed. “Digital Disinformation and Communalism in Bangladesh.” China Media Research 15, no. 2 (2019): 68–76.

Banaji, Shakuntala, and Ram Bhat. “How Anti-Muslim Disinformation Campaigns in India Have Surged during COVID-19.” Web log. LSE Covid-19 Blog (blog). London School of Economics and Political Science, September 30, 2020.

Banaji, Shakuntala, and Ram Bhat. “WhatsApp Vigilantes: An exploration of citizen reception and circulation of WhatsApp misinformation linked to mob violence in India.” London School of Economics and Political Science, 2019.

Funke, Daniel, and Susan Benkelman. “Misinformation is inciting violence around the world. And tech platforms don’t seem to have a plan to stop it.” Poynter, April 4, 2019.

Kyaw, Nyi Nyi. “Facebooking in Myanmar: From Hate Speech to Fake News to Partisan Political Communication.” ISEAS — Yusof Ishak Institute, no. 36 (2019): 1–10.

Posetti, Julie, Nermine Aboulez, Kalina Bontcheva, Jackie Harrison, and Silvio Waisbord. “Online violence Against Women Journalists: A Global Snapshot of Incidence and Impacts.” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2020.

Rajeshwari, Rema. “Mob Lynching and Social Media.” Yale Journal of International Affairs, June 1, 2019.

Taylor, Luke. “Covid-19 Misinformation Sparks Threats and Violence against Doctors in Latin America.” BMJ (2020): m3088.

“The Danger of Fake News in Inflaming or Suppressing Social Conflict.” Center for Information Technology and Society — University of California Santa Barbara, n.d.

Ward, Megan, and Jessica Beyer. “Vulnerable Landscapes: Case Studies of Violence and Disinformation” Wilson Center, August 2019.

We welcome other sources we have may missed — please share any suggested additions with us at datastewards [at] thegovlab.org or The GovLab on Twitter.

Data Stewards Network

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