Pandemic Propaganda Is Coming. Be Ready for It ~ NYT

Americans will have to choose what to believe in a swelling sea of disinformation.


Ms. Zakem is a senior technology and policy adviser with Technology for Global Security.

Credit…Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last month, a viral post attributed to Stanford University circulated on social media claiming that if you can hold your breathwithout coughing for more than 10 seconds, you most likely don’t have Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. I initially believed it was credible and forwarded it to friends before I learned it was fake. I have studied influence campaigns for most of my career. How could I have been so foolish?

And then I began to wonder about the impact that pandemic conspiracies like this one, labeled “infodemic” campaigns by the World Health Organization, will have on the American election in November. What sorts of lies, rumors and wild theories about the coronavirus will enshroud the Democratic and Republican campaigns, conventions, debates and Election Day? American voters will be adrift in a fog of disinformation, uncertain whether to believe anything they read or hear. As a result, there is likely to be an even more fractured electorate shaping American society for the next four years, and perhaps well beyond.

Russia, China and activists will use the infodemic as a weapon

Let’s be honest. We are heading into an election marked by a flood of disinformation about voting procedures, science and health care, the economy, foreign policy and the moral fabric of our society. We are likely to see conspiracy theories and false narratives from state actors such as Russia and China, news outlets and advocacy groups, and individuals ranging from partisan activists to white supremacists, and even our friends and neighbors who may inadvertently share conspiracy theories without malicious intent. Already, the infodemic has created misleading content that may have a grain of truth when it comes to testing, prevention and origins of the disease.

Russia is continuing its campaign of sowing distrust in democratic institutions and American science in an effort to deepen the divide in the American electorate. For years, Russian operatives have pushed conspiracy theories that global health outbreaks like Ebola and deadly forms of the flu have been manufactured by American scientists. Now all Russia needs to do is amplify false narratives originating in America by Americans about the coronavirus. Heading into November, we may see Russia use a multifaceted campaign of malign influence about the pandemic to influence the election. The use of Russia’s media outlets, including RT and Sputnik, trolls, bots, blogs, and cultural and business channels, to spread such propaganda are not new. However, in the Covid-19 era, the amplification and combination of them should make all of us nervous.

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One thought on “Pandemic Propaganda Is Coming. Be Ready for It ~ NYT

  1. I find, more so with formats like this one, to share where my views might understood, but for the readers. I have discovered the apparent “cleverness” of people and the usage of language. This is good, for awareness is essential to understanding.
    Many people like to belong. They want to be part of movements. They want to be part of group think tanks. They want to be in the know. Or, they want to be seen as different and having rare understanding. I have none of that. The difficulty is, in these efforts, many actually give up their understanding in exchange for the group, entity, or otherwise. The only honest person is the one who says what they say, see what they see, realize what they realize, and care not for adulation, accolades, or thumbs ups.
    I suppose this format has its problems in that people will determine the successfulness of their blogs by support. Those who understand honesty won’t worry about that. They’ll say what needs to be said, forget the thumbs ups. And a president who’s determined to do the right thing won’t worry about blogs or panels. We have a president like that. He could always go back to making his billions. He’s not getting rich as president, giving his salary back, and he could be making more running the Trump empire.
    I explained to a friend that in this day and age, we would be hard pressed to find or get a president who would follow the constitution unless he/she were rich and successful in his/her own right. For only such a person, strong in their convictions, could withstand the onslaught of progressives, politics, and many who are easily led into certain ways of thinking. For, we looked about, and in every walk of life, we see virtually similar things, wondering how it all came about. Looking for people who are truly individuals, think and see for themselves, and aren’t looking to make a book deal or get thumbs ups. We’re looking for people who see clearly, like George Washington, and say without any thought for gain. Just for the country.
    I suppose, that’s why, in our walks, the most honest people don’t look for applause. They work, have families, discuss and argue, eat out or at home, and live their lives of responsibility without applause. They don’t even think about notoriety.
    I truly believe, to begin, our president didn’t want the job. We think he was going along, as he’d thought about it before, but more so to shake things up, perhaps encourage the one’s he liked to truly speak their minds for the country. What he discovered, during those debates was he couldn’t find one who would be strong and independent. Probably thought the others were bought out to some degree, or just not strong enough, and he realized the seriousness of what was and has been happening in America. We’re so close to socialism, if we’re not there already, that I’m still amazed how so many don’t know the lesson of the black sheep. It’s the few who make a difference, for they provide an example to others. But never to be seen as such.
    What you’re seeing is an individual who thinks and realizes for himself, follows the constitution and believes in America and what America stands for. Most people aren’t used to seeing that. Most have had to lower expectations, rationalize, and go along to get along. He doesn’t. And that’s a breath of fresh air. And look what he’s been able to withstand, and he seems to be getting younger. Why? Because he sees it. We see it. And we know how serious his job is. And he’s right. Some of the other countries are salivating in the hopes that someone without understanding and individual thinking gets in so they can walk all over us. And the people. Well…..
    Okay. So it seem the writer of this article is thinking for themselves. I just wanted to add an import.

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