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Friday, December 18, 2020

Dear <<First Name>>,

Welcome to today’s briefing. Coming up, we look at a questionably sourced report by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro alleging election fraud, plus the false “love jihad” narrative in India. And, as always, we bring you our digest of top articles, media investigations and scientific research centered around the theme of information disorder.

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Peter Navarro’s dubious election report fuels unfounded fraud narratives

President Donald Trump’s supporters are staying the course on election denialism following the publication of a 36-page report Thursday, released by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Titled “The Immaculate Deception: Six Key Dimensions of Election Irregularities” and hosted on Steve Bannon’s website, Navarro’s report offers a conclusion that aligns with Trump’s familiar refrain of “a coordinated strategy” to steal the election in Joe Biden’s favor. 

The controversial claims presented in the report focused on six swing states and relied on several questionable sources. Navarro’s report cited Texas’ failed Supreme Court lawsuit, as well as conservative outlets like The Michigan Star, operated by former Tea Party activist Michael Patrick Leahy, and The Epoch Times newspaper. Navarro was accused earlier this month of using his government position for campaign purposes — a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts government employees from engaging in partisan political activities. Navarro said he released Thursday’s report in a “personal” capacity.  

These concerns did not stop conservative influencers such as Dan Bongino from sharing the report with his 3 million followers across Twitter, Parler and Rumble. The largest Stop the Steal group on MeWe, which migrated from Facebook after the November 3 election and boasts nearly 17,000 members, shared the story using the tag #mediacensorship. A member of a 6,200 user-strong public Facebook Group that supports Charlie Kirk, co-founder of the right-wing group Turning Point USA, shared the report with the text, saying in part: “This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for. I think we can expect […] Pres.Trump declaring martial law and the election done over under the supervision of the U.S. military.” — Diara J. Townes

Fact checkers and news organizations debunk claims of ‘love jihad’ in India

False and misleading claims around the “love jihad” conspiracy theory are endangering Muslims and breaking up wedding ceremonies in India. “Love jihad” is the false theory that Muslim men target and marry Hindu women in an attempt to convert them. Encouragingly, news organizations and fact-checking outfits are routinely debunking these claims both online and on television. 

A video of a marriage counselor speaking to a couple, shared with a caption falsely alleging “love jihad,” was viewed thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook. It was debunked by Boom Live, which found there to be no connection between the video and the claim. National news channel NDTV has also debunked some of the claims, and reported there was “no credible evidence” for police cases against those allegedly engaging in this practice, adding that a new law to combat “love jihad” is “being used to harass Hindu-Muslim couples.” — Ali Abbas Ahmadi

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Welcome to our series of articles that each share an important lesson learned about the challenges of disrupting misinformation in 2020. This week, First Draft looked at: 

Last week, we looked at how online influencers have become powerful vectors in promoting false information, how misinformation flows through diaspora communities, and more. Read all about First Draft’s end-of-year series here

Misinformation fatigue sets in (Nieman Lab)

Misinformation, previously a niche journalism beat, has been supercharged by Covid-19 and the US election this year. Scarcely a day goes by without a new story discussing misinformation’s impact on our health, politics and lives. But are we entering the throes of “misinformation fatigue?” Brandy Zadrozny, an NBC News investigative reporter specializing in online mis- and disinformation, this year has covered how QAnon infiltrated town squares through an innocuous hashtag; how a fake online persona disseminated a conspiracy theory about Hunter Biden; the evolving tactics of anti-vaccination groups and more. “Misinformation isn’t going away, but it seems inevitable that people will stop caring,” Zadrozny predicts in a Nieman Lab article. To counter this, platforms must take responsibility for how their algorithms are shaping our online habits and behaviors, as well as allow outside experts “…to instead curate an experience that undoes a bit of the pollution that they’ve made.”

My job reporting on QAnon and coronavirus disinformation has led to daily death threats — but we can’t give up (iNews)

This year, journalists and fact checkers have faced soaring levels of abuse, threats and intimidation, both online and in person. “My job has led me to investigate the impact of conspiracies surrounding the pandemic and the US election — interviewing people who have received horrific abuse, or have even had relationships destroyed or lost loved ones as a result. By doing this, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of coordinated harassment wishing me dead and calling me a robotic ‘psyop’ agent,” writes the BBC’s Marianna Spring. And she is not alone. Studies have shown that debunking or disputing even the most outrageous claims can be seen as an attack on the belief systems and social identity of those who perpetrate them, so their responses can be hostile or even violent. Just like healthcare workers and election officials who have been attacked for doing their jobs, members of the media are providing a crucial service at a difficult time, and require our protection and support. 

Debunked Covid-19 myths survive online, despite facts (ABC News)

The pandemic has been accompanied by an infodemic of misinformation, and both show few signs of abating. Even as online platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Google redouble their efforts to “disinfect” the health-related information space, some of the most pernicious myths die hard. As the US passes its 10th straight day of record Covid-19 hospitalizations, recording nearly 3,000 deaths in the past 24 hours, ABC News debunks some of the damaging false narratives. Among them: the myth that masks don’t offer protection (despite the mixed messaging, they do), the conspiracy theory claiming the virus is manmade (there is no evidence of that) and that officials are exaggerating the death toll as part of a plot to force global vaccinations (they are not). Going into 2021, an increase in vaccine hesitancy threatens to undermine efforts to defeat the virus, but pushing back against the skeptics is not easy. “I don’t think it was one myth that caused the problem,” Nancy Kass, deputy director for public health at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, told ABC News. “It’s the fact that there were many, many, many myths.”

♫ Let it snow ♫

Be well,
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