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Disinformation Campaigns Set the Tone for American Political Polarization

Published by Foreign Affairs Bulletin by IDSA on

Antifa, Soros, and “agent-provocateurs” are many buzzwords…

 

…being thrown around the lexicon of the American political establishment following over 100 days of riots and protests in a nation ravaged by a pandemic with no end in sight and worsening racial tensions. The political right spotlights organized anti-fascist organizations, while the left is hellbent on identifying President Donald Trump (as well as current law enforcement practices) as the root cause for the ongoing unrest. However, as was seen in the 2016 Presidential elections, an international sceptre has also played their hand in sowing mass hysteria and dissonance- the use of disinformation campaigns.

Following the indictment of numerous of Russian officials during the Mueller investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 elections, it was found that as many as 126 million Americans were targeted by Russian-backed disinformation campaigns, almost all of which were pandering to those on the political-right in the US. Today, the same tactics are being used.

Russia is not, however, the sole holder of accountability- at least not in this year’s election. Following a worsening civil unrest, characterized by violence and rioting in numerous cities, white nationalist groups such as Identity Evropa also played their hand in sowing chaos- claiming that groups of Black Lives Matter protesters and Antifa were coming to their residential neighborhoods to loot, pillage, and raze their homes. Reports of buses of Antifa members heading to town struck fear in the hearts of residents in over 41 cities; like in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a viral tweet led to dozens reaching out to the local police department- fearing for the lives of themselves and their loved ones.

The US is not the only nation to fall victim to immense polarization through the use of misinformation, disinformation, and rumor-spreading. In India, the government launched campaigns to halt the spread of misinformation after social media started to flood with anti-muslim sentiment regarding the consumption of meat (specifically eggs and poultry) and it’s supposed link to the spread of Covid-19. In Italy, China began concerted efforts to shift blame and boost confidence in Italy’s joining of the Belt and Road Initiative in March of 2019.

The spread of mis- and disinformation has become a common tactic when it comes to shifting the public perception in regards to almost all aspects of life. The question, however, remains as how can we the people, and the governments we elect to represent us, combat the growing sceptre of false propaganda. In the States, accountability of tech giants like Facebook, as well as data protection laws (like those enacted by the European Union in 2018), would be a great step in the right direction.

— Written by Kalman Gyecsek, Head Coordinator and Editor-in-chief at Foreign Affairs Bulletin by IDSA —
 


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