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Disinformation on Facebook, social media leaves us 'vulnerable' and imperils democracy: researcher

Julie Hyman
·Anchor
·2 min read

Facebook indefinitely banned Donald Trump on Thursday, finally bowing to pressure to block the president from the social media platform over lies and fomenting of dissent that have characterized his posts throughout his tenure. The final straw, of course, was Trump’s encouragement of protesters in Washington, D.C., to march on the Capitol, a display that ended in riots and storming of the building.

Disinformation and social media researchers had been sounding the alarm on the real-world consequences of online rhetoric for months, if not years.

“No one listened,” Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at The Wilson Center, told Yahoo Finance Live. In October, Jankowicz testified before the House Committee on Intelligence, saying “not only have the U.S. government and social media platforms all but abdicated their responsibility to stop the threat of foreign disinformation over the past four years, domestic disinformation now runs rampant. It is amplified in the media, online, in the halls of Congress, and from the White House itself. It does our adversaries’ work for them, leaving us vulnerable to continued manipulation and leaving our democracy imperiled.”

Her assertion was met with skepticism at the time, Jankowicz said, but was borne out by Wednesday’s events. “The things we were seeing came straight from QAnon, came straight from the violent, extremist movements that we’ve seen flourish on social media over the past couple of years...You can draw a straight line from mis- and disinformation that had been engendered by the Trump administration to the events that we saw.”

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 7: Workers install more robust fencing along the east side of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning, January 7, 2021, following the riot at the Capitol the day before. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 7: Workers install more robust fencing along the east side of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning, January 7, 2021, following the riot at the Capitol the day before. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

On Thursday, Jankowicz repeated her call for measures to tackle the social-media disinformation problem with the following:

— Consistent application of rules of engagement by Facebook and Twitter. But by the time they applied those rules to Trump, “it might be too little, too late.”

— More transparency around content moderation, with the possible creation of a government body for oversight.

She gave more details on her proposals in her October testimony.

Julie Hyman is the co-anchor of Yahoo Finance Live, weekdays 9am-11am ET.

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