Americans have bought more guns in 2020 than any other year on record. The combination of the pandemic, racial justice protests, and a highly-polarised presidential election have helped drive an unprecedented surge in demand for firearms. Into this volatile environment, outgoing US President Donald Trump has been busy disseminating misinformation on Twitter; undermining trust in mail-in voting, claiming (without evidence) massive voter fraud and a “rigged” election.

Could online misinformation lead to real violence? In November 2020, Estonia’s Interior Minister had to resign his position following a radio interview in which he repeated misinformation about US election fraud on a “massive scale”, before sharing details of a dream he’d had in which “civil war” erupted in the United States and Donald Trump emerged victorious. This is a dream (or nightmare) clearly shared by certain armed militias in the United States. Certainly, the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory has been linked to real violence including kidnappings, car chases, and even a murder.

Could fake news ever spark a real-world war? In December 2016, the then-Pakistani Minister of Defence was duped by fake news into believing Israel had threatened his country with nuclear annihilation. On Twitter, he warned Israel that Pakistan is a “nuclear state too”. More recently, fake news has been circulating on social media following the deadly clash in the Himalayas between Indian and Chinese forces. What might happen if one or both parties involved in a stand-off are fooled by fake news?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Manuel, who is convinced that ‘fake news’ is putting real lives at risk during the pandemic (for example, by promoting pseudoscientific cures or by arguing the virus does not exist). Could online misinformation put real lives at risk?

To get a response, we spoke to Maarja Kask, Policy Fellow for Digital Europe at the Jacques Delors Centre. What would she say?

What happens when misinformation is being pushed by a foreign government? We had a comment from Zsolt, who argues that all nations, including European states and the US, use propaganda to help shape the narrative to their benefit. However, how do we draw the line between traditional or “acceptable” propaganda and hostile information operations?

To get a reaction, we put Zsolt’s comment to Nicolas de Pedro, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft in London.

How would Maarja Kask from the Jacques Delors Centre respond to the same question?

Could fake news ever lead to war? Could online misinformation put lives at risk? And how do we draw the line between traditional or “acceptable” propaganda and hostile information operations? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below! Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) Brandi Lyon Photography

15 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    Could sleepy Joe lead us to war?
    Trump stopped the attack on Iran, but that’s not what Joe liked. After all under Obama we got ISIS, and it flourished under his umbrella until Trump become a president.

    • avatar

      Trump will be back soon!

  2. avatar

    I actually expect from the EU to do research before going to war. Unlike what happened with Iraque.

  3. avatar

    The Estonian minister is back where he was, and since radio interview refered to his personal opinion to which he intiteled to under the freedom of speach, leave the topick. Information has to be confirmed for people to act on it, so no for Europe (geo)

  4. avatar

    Depends what you call fake news? The better question is can we trust the mainstream media which is owned by Soros, Murdoch and other Elite people. Can we trust them what they show to us. Everyone has there own views and want to push them on society.

  5. avatar

    Happened in the past under George Bush jr, when he based his attack to Pakistan on fake news, why not happen again? Spreading fake news is not just irresponsible, it’s also a threat to the world. Not all people have the filters to process what they are been fed and it leads to dangerous polarizations.

  6. avatar

    Easy answer…..yes! You have seen it in the last and you will see it in the future how lies result in people getting killed because of religion or ethnic group….

  7. avatar

    Acceptable propaganda is mainstream media, anything else is fake news & conspiracy, everybody knows that.

  8. avatar

    In general news outlets are dangerous, as using unverified or one-sided information may lead to incidents with real people casualties.

  9. avatar

    Could fakenews and EU (former Soviet Union)manipulate us to war?

    • avatar

      OMG. EU is European Union. Nothing to do with Russia….or soviet Union. 😲. Some people should go back too school 🤣

  10. avatar

    It already happened in 1871. The war between Prussia and France was largely based on exaggerated, fabricated news.

  11. avatar

    Numerous historical examples:
    – Ems dispatch (Franco-Prussian war 1870)
    – Gleiwitz (invasion of Poland, 1939)
    – Moukden (Japan vs China, 1931-1932)
    And more recently WMD (Irak)…

  12. avatar

    Ya’ll never heard of the Dolchstoßlegende, huh?

  13. avatar

    It has been a part of the path to war countless times during history.

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