When Misinformation Becomes ‘Racialized’ – ABC News
Misinformation is so pervasive (and can be dangerous, as the world witnessed on January 6 with the attack on the Capitol by many caught up in a frenzy by online misinformation) that advocates and researchers seek not only ways to combat it, but are analyzing it – seeing what kinds of misinformation have spread and to whom.
One type, they say, is racially targeted misinformation.
Racialized misinformation — a term used by some of the experts who spoke with ABC News — is “intentionally designed to mislead,” DeVan Hankerson Madrigal, research director for the Center for Democracy & Technology, told ABC News.
This form of misinformation exploits “existing forms of discrimination, targeting people based on their race, gender and identity,” she added.
And it’s rooted in racism and stereotyping, advocates say. Extremists have identified black communities by engaging in what advocates have called digital blackface – non-black people creating fake online profiles posing as black.
Digital blackface is often accompanied by these narratives using the vernacular often stereotypically associated with black culture and people according to Clemson professor and digital researcher, Dr. Darren Linvill, who studies misinformation.
Some social media hashtags like #Blaxit, which appeared to be created and promoted by black people, turned out to be “inauthentic or right-wing,” said Brandi Collins-Dexter, disinformation researcher at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public. Harvard Kennedy School. Policy and author of the report, “Media Attack: Operation Blaxit.”
Why online racial misinformation?
The Russian trolls who spread misinformation during the 2016 election, as noted in the Mueller report, also specifically targeted black Americans, according to research by Deen Freelong of the University of North Carolina, an internet research agency based in Russia.
According to Freelon’s report, Black Trolls Matter: Racial and Ideological Asymmetries in Social Media Misinformationthe Russian agency created social media accounts posing as black users during the 2016 election season using Twitter account names such as “Blacktivist” and “BlackMattersUS”.
Why would the Russians bother to do that? According to Freelon and other researchers on the subject, these accounts have exploited America’s racial divisions for geopolitical advantage and to suppress black voter turnout by regularly sharing content to stir up outrage, such as videos of violence. policewoman.
Racialized misinformation trolls have also taken advantage of the mistrust Black Americans may feel toward institutions such as law enforcement and health care after experiencing medical racism and continued discrimination. according to First Draft research, a global non-profit organization that investigates online misinformation.
First Draft said it also found that white anti-vaccine advocates such as doctor Simone Gold and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. were spreading misinformation online targeting black people.
In January 2020, a speech by Gold shared more than 3,800 times on Facebook called the vaccine an “experimental biological agent” and alleged that the US government was using black people as test subjects for the vaccine.
Kennedy falsely claimed that vaccines are harmful to the health of black peopleand highlighted the Tuskegee syphilis experiment for comparison, in a recent documentary.
Gold and Kennedy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Anti-vaccine advocates have also targeted Hispanic communities.
CIO, a London-based think tank, found that of more than 8,000 content in Spanish mentioning the World Doctors Alliance, an anti-vaccine group, only 26 were verified.
Popular anti-vaccine groups, including Médicos por la Verdad (Doctors for Truth) and Coalición Mundial Salud y Vida (Comusav), have translated memes, videos and messages from English to Spanish to amplify anti-vaccine stories to their followers, according to the first draft.
Fighting race-based misinformation
In addition to studying racialized misinformation, some groups say they are determined to fight it.
The Disinfo Defense League is made up of 35 civil rights organizations calling on social media companies to stop what they see as the spread of harmful misinformation aimed at black and brown people.
Launched in June 2020, the Disinfo Defense League created a political platform calling on Congress and the UN to protect digital civil rights and investigate what they consider to be “racialized misinformation” – intentionally misleading, race-based online propaganda.
Politicians were also pushed into action. In April 2021, Senate lawmakers questioned the CEOs of Twitter, Google, and Facebook on issues including misinformation and extremism, while seeking changes to Section 230, a federal law that provides broad legal immunity. to social media sites.
Groups like the Disinfo Defense League are also demanding that Big Tech’s limits on collecting users’ personal information end “discriminatory algorithms.”
“Facebook had the power to curb a lot of the harmful stories that were circulating before the [presidential] the election, because they activated this specific mechanism that limited the spread of electoral units and disinformation near the election,” said Jaime Longoria, researcher for the Disinfo Defense League. “It really comes down to their business model.
When asked for a comment, Facebook has returned ABC News to its general policy on misinformation.
Kaylin Dodson of First Draft also said social platforms need to give journalists more access to their data in order to combat racialized misinformation.
“It’s all about verification. You can find a Twitter account and be like, ‘Oh, this Twitter belongs to a doctor,'” Dodson said of the red flags there.
In a statement to ABC News, Twitter said:
“We routinely take proactive enforcement action on accounts that engage in platform manipulation and spamming, which we define as using Twitter to engage in massive, aggressive, or deceptive activity that induces mislead others and/or disrupt their experience. This includes accounts that may be involved in spreading misleading information,” Twitter said in a statement to ABC News.
TikTok did not respond to a request for comment on racial misinformation.