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

56 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.

  14. avatar

    I will reword the question to add the historical background: Was there a war(throughout the human written and mythical history) that wasn’t justified, and maintained with the use of fake news? I really hope that someone will give me an example, as I couldn’t come up with one.

  15. avatar

    Que l'”union la maquerelle s’en aille crever ailleurs que sur mon sol.

  16. avatar


  17. avatar

    DEAR HUU WHITE FOLK ; OUR FREEDOM FIGHT NEVER ENDED SO SPREAD THE WORD ; PAX ROMANA IS OVER AND GAELIC INDEPENDENCE IS NON NEGOTIABLE 0 for a revolt and go boudicca on their asses to wake up the tribes ; time to wake up the knights . time to wake up ; JUST TIME TO TAKE BACK OUR LANDS and TIME TO GO TO WAR 1 Warb Naseu Wilr Made Thaim I Bormotha Hauni Hu War Hu War Opkam Har a Hit Lot Got Nafiskr Orf Auim Suimade Foki Afa Galande What am I supposed to do If I want to talk about peace and understanding But you only understand the language of the sword What if I want to make you understand that the path you chose leads to downfall But you only understand the language of the sword What if I want to tell you to leave me and my beloved ones in peace But you only understand the language of the sword I let the blade do the talking… So my tongue shall become iron And my words the mighty roar of war Revealing my divine anger´s arrow shall strike All action for the good of all I see my reflection in your eyes But my new age has just begun The sword is soft In the fire of the furnace It hungers to be hit And wants to have a hundred sisters In the coldest state of their existence They may dance the maddest In the morass of the red rain Beloved brother enemy I sing my sword song for you The lullaby of obliteration So I can wake up with a smile And bliss in my heart And bliss in my heart And bliss in my heart Coexistence, Conflict, combat Devastation, regeneration, transformation That is the best I can do for you I see a grey gloom on the horizon That promises a powerful sun to rise To melt away all moons It will make the old fires of purification Look like dying embers Look like dying embers Look like dying embers Min Warb Naseu Wilr Made Thaim I Bormotha Hauni Hu War Hu War Opkam Har a Hit Lot Got Nafiskr Orf Auim Suimade Foki Afa Galande Hu War Hu War Opkam Har a Hit Lot

  18. avatar

    You could start by stopping to spread your fake news.

  19. avatar

    Could it ever?It was one of the main reasons of WOII.Impressive amounts of people buying in to the conspiracy theories of nazi’s.Hello?

  20. avatar

    Yess , media idiots ! And you started it :-(

  21. avatar
  22. avatar

    As a spark, yes, maybe. But for things to get ablaze you need deeper causes.

  23. avatar

    Yes, and all Socials Medias can do’it !!! Is very dangerous – FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, TIK TOK, TWITTER, ALL !!!

  24. avatar

    it,s to long ago a war ,must one come then go all better

  25. avatar

    Les guerres, ce sont les ploutocrates qui les provoquent.Tout le reste n’est que mensonges et manipulation

  26. avatar

    So who is good and more human in this world? Chinese not good ?Arabs not good ?blacks not good ?

  27. avatar

    partout dans le monde vous avez laisser la société créer des légions d’imbéciles n’ayant qu’un niveau limité abreuvés de trash culture…C’est un des revers de l’idiocratie, il suffit dès lors de quelques personnes plus intelligentes et mal intentionnés et ça donne ce genre de chose. Je vous souhaite bonne chance dans le contexte politico-social actuel pour enrayer ce genre de phénomène.

  28. avatar

    Toute l’hypocrisie de l’Europe, débattre, débattre…. de quoi. Avec votre ouverture des frontières et cette communauté musulmane venue en Europe important avec elle les manipulations idéologiques et religieuses de leurs dirigeants. 400.000 syriens tués par leurs propres dirigeants n’amènent aucune protestation de cette communauté musulmane. Par contre s’agissant du conflit israélo-palestinien, le moindre incident conduit à des manifestations tous azimuths.

  29. avatar

    Het almaar bestraffen van de waarheid , dat gaat heel binnenkort tot een volksopstand leiden , deze nepregering heeft nu reeds bloed aan haar handen maar wil kost wat kost de macht behouden !!!Dat gaat zich wreken !!

  30. avatar

    Il suffit de voir les commentaires des cas sos que nous avons ici pour comprendre que les social media sont un problème très grave et qu’il faut les fermer définitivement.

  31. avatar

    The problem come from thet fact that info is nox immediatly politized… not possible to have a true neutral message… so people are mandatory to take a position… Is it for ex politically correct in EU to say that President D Trump was a good one ? It’s possible to have a debate on that based on objective fact… but it’s too emmotional

  32. avatar

    idk, could clickbait titles ever lead to a healthy debate?

  33. avatar
  34. avatar

    News and facts are not the same thing, true now more than ever…

  35. avatar

    For a modern war, fake news is even necessary.

  36. avatar

    That’s why regular media can’t be trusted, dear propagandists.

  37. avatar

    Fake news has led to war so many times!!!

  38. avatar
    Luis Busquets

    Fake news:1898 Americans declared war on Spain basesld on fake news: The USS Maine had been sunk by the Spanish.

  39. avatar

    When it is Israel-Palestine issue, Europe is accusing fake news. When it is about Xinjiang of China, why EU has sanctioned Xinjiang people with a piece of fake news fabricated by the BBC? UK does not belong to the EU family. By sanctioning Xinjiang, EU got China’ retaliation. Why EU is so stupid? What is the spirit of the Enlightenment era? It is with this spirit, Europe was able to progress from the traditional era to the modern era i.e. scientific method to find facts and knowledge.

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