Propaganda and Disinformation News from the Week of Nov. 3-10

It’s been a relatively slow week in the world of propaganda and disinformation, but here are some of the highlights:

  • The 2020 US census is another possible target of social media disinformation, according to the MIT Technology Review and NPR. The stakes are high. There are fears that Black and Latino populations could be undercounted, and that trolls or foreign governments could try to target them with disinformation to discourage census response to skew the count and hence congressional representation.  The Census is working with social media companies and has started a rumor-control page. Let’s see what happens…

 

  • Freedom House related its annual Freedom on the Net report, and it is not pleasant reading. Despite improvements in places like Ethiopia and Lebanon, the general trend was “digital authoritarians” increasingly mastering social media for propaganda, disinformation and surveillance. The report gives country-by-country detail. The section on the United States is bracing, especially as Freedom House gets most of its funding from the US government, with the opening paragraph quoted here:
    • “Internet freedom in the United States declined for the third consecutive year as immigration and law enforcement agencies expanded their surveillance of the public, eschewing robust oversight and transparency. Officials increasingly monitored social media platforms and conducted warrantless searches of travelers’ electronic devices, in some cases to glean information about constitutionally protected activities such as peaceful protests and critical reporting. While the online environment remains vibrant, diverse, and free from state censorship, disinformation was prevalent during the 2018 midterm elections and other key political events, at times exacerbated by top government officials and political leaders.”
  • Facebook is still making the news in malevolent ways as new studies show disinformation still proliferating on the social media platform. Most of it is false and the overwhelming majority of it attacks centrists, liberals or left-wingers.
  • And in one of the more bizarre stories of the week, visitors to a shopping mall in Colorado reported men dressed as Hasidic Jews handing out noxious anti-Semitic propaganda. Apparently no one complained to police.

Author: Dr. John Jenks

I am a professor of Communication at Dominican University, and research the post-1945 history of propaganda and journalism.

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