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Lies sent Trump supporters to Washington. Can Big Tech bans stop the misinformation?

Julia Terruso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

“You have almost an impermeable bubble for right-wing content,” he said. “What that leads to is an audience that is overwhelmingly accepting of and believing of mis- and disinformation so it creates a market for new entrants. Even though something like Parler may be shut down, other folks can pick up the slack because there’s a market out there for it.”

Just as there was a range of Trump supporters in Washington last week, there’s also a range in how radicalized people have become, said Claire Wardle, U.S. director of First Draft News, a group working to fight misinformation online. “You had dads who like to play golf and you had extremists and white supremacists and all those in between. Some de-platforming decisions will stop the dads in golf shirts, but I think the people who really believed in this and have other reasons for believing this will find other places to congregate.”

And the prospects for some people to become radicalized increases as their information-sharing communities become smaller, said Marc Ambinder, senior fellow at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who also studies misinformation. While some followers will start to question the credibility of the content on sites like Parler given its ban, “for some it’s the proof of the conspiracy.”

“There are millions and millions who feel — even for reasons we may find horrendous — disconnected and totally shunned,” Ambinder said. De-radicalization efforts, like encouraging interventions between family members, and more elected officials publicly separating fact from fiction, will be needed, he said.

And those conversations may need to come with ultimatums, Freelon said. “Threatening to cut ties with them if they don’t come around, I think helps people know this is something serious and they’re going to have to face if they’re going to engage in ideas that are, quite frankly, deadly,” he said.

The misinformation was flowing freely on the bus from Harrisburg. “There’s no two sides,” Mickles said. “It’s proven that it definitely was fraud.”

Mickles, a forklift operator, wasn’t always so dismissive of fact-based journalism. For 15 years she was a reporter for the Pike County Dispatch in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She covered county government and local political campaigns.

But her trust in news shifted during Trump’s presidency. Mickles now reads the far-right Epoch Times, along with postings on Parler and the video platform Rumble. “I just want truth,” she said. “And if we don’t get it now I don’t think we’ll ever have a fair election ever again. It’s scary.”

 

Many Trump supporters have blamed the attack on the loosely knit group of far-left activists known as antifa, despite no evidence to support that claim. Even before the insurrection, there were rumors circulating.

“Are you aware that police escorted antifa busloads into the city?” David Stauffer, a retired truck driver from York, asked on the way to Washington. “There’s videos of it on Parler.”

How did he know the buses captured in the video had members of antifa onboard?

“Because the eyewitness testified to it.”

How did he know the eyewitness was being truthful?

“Well,” he said, “I accept conservative people as being truthful.”

(c)2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.