Reading through some of the DFRlab stories on 2018’s election misinformation campaigns (e.g. this one), and I get a familiar sinking feeling. I see the Russian posts about violence against black people, or immigrants doing jobs in conditions that non-immigrants won’t consider, and I find myself thinking “you know what, this is true, and yep, I agree with a lot of it”.
Just because I study misinformation doesn’t mean I’m immune to it, any more than knowing about the psychology of advertising makes me any less likely to buy a specific pair of shoes that I got repeatedly exposed to over the Christmas season (yes, yes, I know, but they’re gorgeous…). But this is interesting because it’s not misinformation in the content — it’s misrepresentation of the source, in this case a group called “Black Matters US”, a Russian Internet Research Agency effort that, amongst other things, organised anti-police-treatment rallies in the USA.
And that’s the thing: one of the most common tactics being used in online information warfare isn’t to create beautiful big lies like pizzagate. It’s to take existing fractures in society, and widen them further. To keep pushing at our emotions til we’re angry or frightened and confused. And countering that tactic is going to need a combination of good provenance tracking, calm voices, and the long hard political work of healing the damage that made it possible.