Kinzen's Weekly Wrap - January 21, 2022

In the last two weeks we looked at the forthcoming Brazilian and Indian elections. One of the big votes taking place this year is in France. It could be a consequential vote for the European continent, and the world as a whole. I asked Emmanuelle Cardea, who’s part of Kinzen’s editorial network, about how misinformation is evolving there before the seminal election.

Ahead of the elections, how are you seeing misinformation evolve in France right now?

France will vote to elect a new president in April 2022, and the election will most probably open the floodgates for political disinformation. First, disinformation aiming at discrediting candidates is very likely to proliferate. France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron has already been targeted on social media with the false claim that she was born male under the name Jean-Michel Trogneux. The lie, which was often accompanied by transphobic comments, has been spread by Twitter accounts opposed to her husband, President Emmanuel Macron, including those on the political far-right, anti-vaccine groups and those from the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.

A number of false claims alleging election fraud have been circulating over the past few months. For instance, French hard-right politician Florian Philippot often claims that the 2022 election is likely to be rigged. On Twitter, Facebook and Telegram, some conspiracy theorists spread the false claim that voters will need to show proof of vaccination to vote. These kinds of falsehoods, which erode trust in the voting system and deter people from going to the polls, are expected to increase in number as the elections approach. 

Do you see potential for foreign interference or influence in the election?

Yes, disinformation from foreign sources is likely to flood social media in an attempt to destabilize the electoral process. The 2017 French presidential campaign was affected by Russian interference (see here): two days before the first round of presidential elections, tens of thousands of emails from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team were leaked. Attached with the emails were summary notes, photos, invoices, many of which were fake documents. 

Finally, QAnon-related conspiracy theories are expected to grow in number ahead of the elections. In 2017, under the hashtag #MacronGate, some 7,000 QAnon sympathizers on Twitter shared questionable documents about an offshore account supposedly held by Macron, a falsehood quickly debunked by French fact-checkers (example here). There are also fears that prominent people involved in the movement could promote abstention during the polls. 

For Your Headphones This Weekend

On the latest episode of SH!TPOST, Jared Holt interviews Ksenia Coffman. She has been spending a lot of time editing Wikipedia articles about World War 2, and encountered a struggle against Holocaust misinformation along the way. Wikipedia is one of the most fascinating experiments in internet history, and this is a great peek behind the curtain. Listen here. Check out a recent Wired profile of Coffman here.

On Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter, Kate Starbird and Caroline Orr Bueno examined COVID falsehoods and the nature of participatory misinformation. Listen here.

Editor’s Pick: Book Slot

Zoë Quinn was one of the central targets in GamerGate, the online harassment campaign against women in the video game industry. They document their experience, and learnings, in Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate

For anyone who is on the internet regularly - that’s you, dear reader - I would argue this book is a must read. Quinn shows how just about anyone can become the victim of online mobs, and how you can keep yourself safe. They have plenty ideas to share about best practices for platforms too. 

Quinn writes, “GamerGate wasn’t really about video games at all so much as it was a flash point for radicalized online hatred that had a long list of targets before, and after, my name was added to it. The movement helped solidify the growing connections between online white supremacist movements, misogynist nerds, conspiracy theorists, and dispassionate hoaxers who derive a sense of power from disseminating disinformation.” 

Despite it all, Quinn remains optimistic about the internet as a force for good in our lives. 


Recommended Articles: From the Kinzen Slack channels this week

Kinzen. Listen to Local Experts. They Can Help Prevent Real World Harm

My colleague Razan Ibraheem wrote about how local experts can provide invaluable insights on evolving threats. She reflects on her own experience as a Syrian watching the unfolding war from Ireland. It’s a terrific reflection celebrating the voice of the local.

BBC. Should bad science be censored on social media?

This is an excellent report confronting the complexity of tackling misinformation. It comes after a report from The Royal Society argued that harmful but legal content should not be taken down by platforms. Instead, it should be demonetised, where possible, and it shouldn’t surface widely in promotional algorithms. But the article also highlights examples where deplatforming proved useful in reducing the spread of misinformation. 

Electronic Frontier Foundation. Fact-Checking, COVID-19 Misinformation, and the British Medical Journal

This articles explores a very public disagreement between a fact-checking group called Lead Stories and the British Medical Journal. We’re big fans of fact-checking here in Kinzen as one aspect of a useful countermeasure to misinformation, but this article goes into the weeds on a very specific issue while highlighting a broader issue with the structure of relationships between fact-checkers, platforms and the public. 

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