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!