United States Disinformation Profile
United States Media Environment
The United States has a 95% internet penetration rate. It is ranked 45th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. In recent years newspapers, magazines, and broadcast television have had a decreased audience with more people turning to online sources of information. Television is still the main source of news for a large number of people but more and more people are getting their news online. Many news outlets have developed more prominent partisan biases.
Notable Disinformation Incidents
Interest in online disinformation spiked after the Russian interference into the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
The 2016 Presidential Election
The United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that Russia had interfered with the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Former-Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco stated that their aim was to "sow distrust and discord and lack of confidence in the voting process and the democratic process." The campaign sought to denigrate Hilary Clinton's campaign.
Facebook provided data that the Russian Internet Research Agency had built a network of over 3.3 million people with 80,000 organic unpaid posts reached an estimated 126 million real people. Twitter identified 50,258 Russian-linked automated accounts. for five weeks in September and October 2016, bots made up almost 19% of all tweets about the presidential election.
The 2020 Presidential Election
Russian actors against supported the election of Donald Trump After the election Donald Trump alleged that the election was stolen which became a popular narrative online. There was a popular conspiracy called "hammer and scorecard" which alleged that a government run super computer was manipulating vote counts across the country in favor of Joe Biden.
The January 6th Attack on the Capital
On January 6th a mob of Trump supporters stormed the United States congress in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. At Donald Trump's encouragement thousands of his supporters who believed misinformation that the 2020 election had been fraudulent.
A poll by the Pew Research Center found that 29% of Americans believed that the COVID-19 Virus was created in a laboratory. Many believe that the virus was created in a laboratory by the Chinese government. US Secretary of State publicly supported the assertion that COVID-19 was created in at Chinese laboratory.
Donald Trump was a prominent promoter of misinformation by promoting unproven treatments and downplaying the dangerousness of the virus. A study by Cornell University found Trump to be the "largest driver of misinformation around Covid".
The Film "Plandemic" has been highly successful 26-minute long documentary which was seen millions of times. It features vaccine science denier Judy Mikovits and mimicked a "prestigious television sit-down interview". The film was popular among Anti-Vax communities, Q anon believers, other conspiracies as well as supports of Donald Trump. Judu Mikovits was supported via a PR manager Zach Vorhies who created a gofundme to help support the campaign. The filmmakers posted it saying that the film would be taken down and encouraged people to view it and spread it as quickly as possible. The film asserts that COVID originated from US government research into flu vaccines, that COVID is being used to push a pro-vaccine agenda by large companies, that Dr. Fauci suppressed Dr. Mikovit's work, and that masks activate coronavirus after it has been injected via flu vaccines. The film was taken down and there is debate among scholars as to whether it should have been left up on platforms with a disclaimer.
Plandemic Black Boxing Output:
Other theories suggest that 5G spreads COVID that the virus was created in a lab in China, that the virus is not worse than the flu, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment, and that the vaccine is unsafe.
Outlets of Disinformation
Within the US a number of outlets have engaged in coordinated misinformation campaigns. From the Yellow Journalism of the 1890s to the conspiracy outlets of the present disinformation is a consistent part of the US information environment.
The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times is a media group with strong links to the Falun Gong religious movement which is banned in China. Headquartered in New York they have websites in 35 different countries and has content in 21 different languages. The news paper is against the CCP and was very favorable of President Donald Trump. It is the most popular newspaper app in the United States on Apple.
The media group has repeatedly published misleading or false information:
The Epoch Times wrote that Russia did not steal emails from the Democratic National Committee, and claimed that even if there was an attack it was the fault of the CIA. The U.S. intelligence community has concrete evidence that a Russian group did steal emails from the Democratic National Committee.
They wrote that the Chinese government had hacked Hillary Clinton's emails a claim which was refuted by the FBI.
They have published conspiracies about the dangers of 5G as well as anti-vax conspiracies about the mumps vaccine.
They published that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese laboratory and was then spread by the CCP which is not true.
The outlet asserts that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was fraudulent which is unverified.
The Beauty of Life Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior
An offshoot of the Epoch Media Group reportedly engaged in a large scale campaign of coordinated inauthentic behavior which was taken down in 2019 and consisted of over 900 pages groups and accounts. Every administrator of the groups was a fake account, the accounts used automated posting and attempted to drive user traffic websites off of Facebook. Facebook reported that the campaign spent over $9 million on advertising and had roughly 55 million followers mostly outside of the US (although it is unclear how many of these followers were also fake). Many of the Fake accounts used GAN generated images as profile pictures. The campaign focused on US politics and promoted Donald Trump, it was also highly anti-CCP and also posted click bait about human-animal bonds.
Infowars is far right media outlet known to promote a vast range of conspiracies views. Alex Jones, the founder of infowars, was banned from prominent social media platforms in 2018 for violating rules against hate speech. Infowars reaches millions of viewers despite having been taken down from major social media platforms.
Russian Bots promoted Infowars during the 2016 US presidential election.
Roger Stone a former campaign advisor for Donald Trump was featured on Infowars. Roger Stone and his associates were accused by Facebook of having 54 Facebook accounts, 50 pages, and 4 Instagram accounts that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. Most of these accounts touted Roger Stone's political acumen and defended him from criminal charges.
Infowars sold COVID-19 treatments which were not proven to have any effect.
Q-Anon is a conspiracy theory which originated on 4-Chan and 8-Chan as part of the /pol/ community. Roughly 10% of Americans believe all or some of the Q Anon conspiracy theory. "Q" claims to be a highly level government official and leaves behind cryptic "drops" which are meant to be deciphered by followers.
The theory asserts that there is a "deep state" consisting of a global network of billionaire pedophiles, Satan worshipping democrats and Hollywood celebrities will be unveiled by Donald Trump who will arrest them en masse.
The theory spread from 8 chan and 4 chan to more mainstream outlets like Reddit, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter where self proclaimed experts would decode "Q" drops and disseminate their findings. The drops themselves rely on leading questions and use confirmation bias to ignore when predictions turn out to be incorrect. Q Anon has been blocked by many social media platforms. However there are sometimes outcroppings of the belief under pseudonyms, for example #savethechildren became a prominent Q Anon message.
Q Anon has gained an international following outside of the US to 70 different countries.
Some Q Anon supporters have used coordinated campaigns with real and fake accounts to try to generate support.