Disinformation is Putting us at Risk

As I cruised through my Facebook theme I came across a meme. It was one of those Be Like Bob memes that were popular some time ago. This one told you not to panic about the coronavirus and then went on to say not to listen to the media. My initial reaction to this was the thought that I really hope the people posting and spreading these memes clear up their ignorance before they cause too much damage by referring to sensible precautions as panic.

What exactly panic would look like (rioting, looting, chaos in the streets) I do not know, but I do know that staying in your home, six feet from others when out, and washing your hands is far from it.

Then last evening I decided to watch the HBO documentary After Truth about the disinformation campaign used during the 2016 election. The documentary focused a good bit on some of the more whacked out conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, but it did get a bit into the tactics that were used. The main tactic used was to set up dummy Facebook pages that promote extreme ideas and attach them to the politician whom the creator of the campaign wants to see lose. While I do not know if this exact tactic is being used as those behind the disinformation campaigns are changing their tactics in an effort to blend in easier.

According University of Wisconsin professor Young Mie Kim as quoted in a recent NPR article, “have moved away from creating their own fake advocacy groups to mimicking and appropriating the names of actual American groups,” and we can see that in the Be Like Bob meme mentioned above. When I click on the profile it was shared from I see a seemingly normal looking older lady and her husband with a seemingly normal human name next to it, but when I scroll down the Facebook page I see nothing but far right memes and when I click on the friends list there is nothing to show, and we all know from watching Catfish that no friends list is a dead giveaway for a fake account.

The Be Like Bob meme itself comes from a group called ACT for America. I looked them up via Google and their policy statement is a mix of gobbledygook and racist dog whistles like preserving our Western values and patriotic way of life. They go into great detail as to how they do not condone racism in any form and only seek to provide a place for open dialogue but then end their mission statement by saying they aren’t responsible for any action taken by their members. The kicker to all this is that Southern Policy Law Center lists ACT for America as an anti-Islam hate group with connections to neo-Nazis.

What should be clear from this is that the same groups the worked alongside the Russians to influence the 2016 election through disinformation campaigns are using those same and evolving tactics to make us less safe from the coronavirus, and that is a truly chilling and sobering thought.

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