By Christina Maxwell
The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.
Disinformation has been a problem in our society and our politics for a long time, but was put under a spotlight on January 6, 2021, when right-wing radicals stormed the U.S. Capitol. They acted on disinformation about the election that had been cynically spread by Trump and his minions, FoxNews, and many others. While misinformation (the spreading of incorrect information accidentally) is problematic, disinformation (the spreading of falsehoods with malicious intent) is downright dangerous.
The advent of social media was a game-changer in the spread of disinformation. Algorithms and artificial intelligence, combined with human nature, drive users further and further to the extremes. A 2018 study found that fake news spreads six times faster than truth; its emotional and unexpected nature tends to grab our attention and compels us to pass it along.
With disinformation threatening the very foundations of our democracy, something must be done. But what? There are many avenues for combatting this scourge, including monitoring social media, spreading truthful information with Indivisible’s Truth Brigade, and urging cable companies to jettison FoxNews. But in many cases the problem is systemic, requiring the kind of large-scale response that can only come through government policy.
Legislators seem to understand they have a role to play in managing this problem. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently held a hearing on the topic. There are also multiple legislative vehicles, including S.299, the SAFE TECH Act, and HR.337, the Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement Act. The former would reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to address areas in which the law has been abused by platforms to evade responsibility for real-world harms they have directly enabled. The latter would address foreign disinformation by requiring disclaimers on foreign-funded political content on U.S. social media.
Members of Indivisible Northampton’s Disinformation Team, along with members of Valley Action, recently met with Congressman McGovern’s staff to discuss this issue and we look forward to continuing these conversations. We welcome collaboration with other Indivisible chapters; if your group is interested in coordinating with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.