President Trump has gone as far as signing one of his executive orders against Twitter, after his tweets regarding “vote by mail” were marked as unsubstantiated by Twitter.
In his tweets, President Trump openly targeted vote by mail by calling it fraudulent. Trump is now accusing Twitter of electioneering and taking sides after the platform has unpublished one of his tweets which was directly against its policy for supposedly inciting violence.
The situation is not so bright on the other side of the Atlantic either.
5G met with arson and vandalism
There has been outrage in the UK after 5G mobile phone towers, including ones owned by Vodafone and EE, were vandalized and set on fire purely based on disinformation in April of this year.
The unfounded conspiracy theories reportedly began when a Belgian doctor speculated to a local newspaper regarding 5G masts in Wuhan, China, where the new coronavirus originated. Despite the article being since removed, the narrative was subsequently picked up by conspiratorial Internet personalities and has spread across the Internet at the same time the coronavirus fears and anxieties gripped the world.
Contrary to the conspiracy theories, which say 5G’s high-frequency waves are harmful, the scientific community agrees that they are below the wavelength that can damage human cells and are classified as non-ionizing. The fifth standard of mobile networks was deemed safe by the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection earlier this year.
It is understandable that misinformation like the baseless 5G theories would spread in such an uncertain time when there is a widespread presence and long periods of great anxiety about unknown events and unknown threats. From their genesis in an obscure corner of the internet, the theories spread onto mainstream social networks like Facebook and YouTube, where they were picked up by prominent celebrities including Woody Harrelson, John Cusack and Amanda Holden, further increasing their reach.
This, too, played a part in Twitter and Facebook’s initiative to flag potentially untrue information on their platforms.
British Minister Michael Gove has directly pointed out to Facebook, Twitter, and other prominent social media platforms for not taking rapid action. According to British officials, this kind of unthinkable and irrational activity could have been prevented if the platforms used to spread them were more responsible.
In June, one of the first associated convicted arsonists was sentenced to jail.
Rest of the World
India: From Covid-19 to Communal Tensions
India has the largest Whatsapp user base in the world with upwards of 200 million users. And, that is one of the prime platforms where disinformation has gained traction in the country. As reported by Foreign Policy Rather than tackling the source of the problem, police have been carrying out rampant arrests throughout the country since April, which has raised concerns over human rights and questions over the ability of local and national government to control misinformation at its source.
The topic of disinformation itself varied from fake remedies of COVID-19 to false claims of certain religious groups contaminating food in the market with the virus, further worsening the communal and caste-based violence that has been prevalent in the country in recent years.
A fact check by Indian Express, shown above, verifies that fake news primarily spreads in India through out of context videos combined with untrue textual information. It also depicts, as shown below, that communally charged disinformation surrounding COVID-19 saw a huge uptick in and around the month of April along with other topics such as health remedies and national lockdown policies.
It is here that it is imperative for authorities to instead begin combating bad information with good information and curtail the room for speculation. However, if the government benefits from the rapid spread of false information, there is little likelihood of pivoting with a shift in strategy.
Brazil: Ranked#1 for Fake News concerns
In a 2019 survey by Statista, the one country that was the most concerned about disinformation was Brazil, and that too by 15% more than the UK who came in second.