Disinformation is a rampant problem in our democracy today, as demonstrated by the most recent presidential election. Hackers and trolls are present on almost every social media platform in use, and it is easy for many to fall victim to their lies and deceptions.
You may be thinking, “I would never fall for that stuff. I’m smart enough to tell what’s real and what’s fake.” But the reality is these trolls are becoming more and more advanced, and they are extremely skilled at convincing viewers that what they are saying is the truth.
If you want to see for yourself, try this quiz. It shows you 8 social media profiles, and you must use the information provided to decide if the profile belongs to a real person or a troll. I recently completed it in my AP Government and Politics class, and I was extremely surprised to only get 4 out of 8 questions correct. I was like many of you, and assumed that I would be able to easily tell the difference between fact and falsehoods. But in truth, it is much more difficult than it seems.
It is this difficulty that presents a threat to our democracy. As people consume this fake media, they accept it as news because it appears credible. That “news” then influences how voters think about politicians, in turn affecting our elections. For example, think back to the 2016 election involving Hillary Clinton and now President Donald Trump. Does the term “Pizzagate” ring any bells? You may recall that Pizzagate was a conspiracy theory that claimed Hillary Clinton, along with other prominent Democratic party members, were running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop. The promoters of this conspiracy had no evidence, but because they were able to create fictitious images that appeared as if they came from credible news sources, many Americans believed the lie.
This is just one instance in which disinformation campaigns have impacted elections, and unless our government takes action against them, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. If you are interested in learning more about how disinformation is affecting Americans, check out these sources!
The Boston Globe’s “Journalists are not the enemy“
Foreign Affairs’ “How to Defeat Disinformation“