Kinzen's Weekly Wrap - September 17, 2021

With the German election approaching, and a worrisome rise in violence associated with COVID denialism there, this week I asked my colleague Karolin Schwarz about what is happening on the ground, and online.

What are the core disinformation themes emerging from the German election so far? 

Early on we saw several false claims targeting the Green party’s candidate. Fake quotes attributed to politicians are making a comeback too - targeting politicians of various parties from the Christian Democrats to the Green party. And then there’s been false claims about the electoral process: conspiracy theories about postal voting, erasable pencils being used to commit fraud, etc. Some of these narratives have been around for months now, as I outlined in a Kinzen blog post in late 2020.

How is COVID intertwining with these disinformation narratives as the election approaches? 

You cannot separate the pandemic from election disinformation. There are false claims about pandemic restrictions being used to keep people from voting. And many politicians are being attacked by COVID deniers re-sharing all kinds of conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the virus, alleged cures and the origins of the virus. It is important not to lose track of COVID and vaccine disinformation as the rhetoric is increasingly violent. We have witnessed attacks on mobile vaccination teams and vaccination centers. Because of this radicalisation, Facebook has just announced they have removed the German protest movement, Querdenken, from the platform.

For Your Headphones This Weekend: Podcast Slot

For more from Karolin on the forthcoming German election, check out the The Infotagion Podcast, where she spoke along with Felix Kartte and Lisa-Maria Neudert. Listen here.

Editor’s Pick: Book Slot

Sometimes we hear that automation will be the solution to disinformation. But we have to be careful. Technology has scale on its side, but unless it’s carefully constructed and constantly maintained, things can go very bad. 

For more on how that often does go bad in the real world, see Virginia Eubanks’ book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. In it, she tells the stories of poverty-stricken Americans who have been hurt badly by systems that turned to technology. 

This is a passionate, fiery book, packed full of microcosms which reveal the macro. If you’re developing technology as a solution to, well, anything, it’s a must-read. 

Recommended Articles: From the Kinzen Slack channels this week

Reuters. Exclusive: Facebook targets harmful real networks, using playbook against fakes

It’s been quite the week for Facebook, with The Wall Street Journal’s series (The Facebook Files), along with an announcement that it was giving $800,000 to fact-checkers fighting climate misinformation. Reuters also had an exclusive about how the company is evolving its moderation efforts. We’ve long heard about the threat of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, but we have seen how real networks are also causing big problems with the spread of disinformation. How that is managed in practice, and whether there are unintended consequences, remains to be seen. 

The Brazilian Report. Senate strikes down Bolsonaro’s social media decree

Bolsonaro’s decree was an insight to the worries some of us have around government regulation of disinformation. Whether that’s to keep problematic content up or taking enemies down, this is why there are serious concerns about governments getting involved in regulation of speech online.

Firstpost. How heavy internet usage and poor digital literacy made India world’s top source of misinformation on COVID-19

An Indian outlet reviews a recent study showing that the country is the leading source of COVID-19 misinformation. 

The Washington Post. False, toxic Sept. 11 conspiracy theories are still widespread today

A fascinating look back at how 9/11 trutherism switched from the left to the right.