Congress was warned over QAnon. Hours later, Trump boosted it.

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What happened next: At a town hall event on NBC later that evening—replacing the second presidential debate, which was cancelled amid concerns over the president’s recent covid-19 diagnosis—Trump was asked to reject QAnon’s fake theory that senior Democrats are part of a satanic operation to abuse and traffic children. At first he claimed, “I know nothing about QAnon,” before adding, “I do know they are very much against pedophilia” and arguing that what he was being told by moderator Savannah Guthrie “doesn’t necessarily make it fact.”

More from the experts: The congressional witnesses had testified that online disinformation is now more widespread than ever[1] and getting more sophisticated, more nuanced, and harder to monitor.  They emphasized newer trends like coordinated messages across groups and platforms, information laundering through trusted local sources, and “hidden virality,” in which the amplification of disinformation occurs in closed, unauditable spaces that make it harder to spot and remove. 

What next: A host of solutions were mentioned, though largely in passing, including rewriting Section 230[2], the law that protects internet platforms from responsibility for the content produced by users, as well as eliminating tax breaks for social-media companies and creating accountability mechanisms for their sites. Witnesses urged redesigns of recommendation algorithms and more user-friendly reporting features for people running into online disinformation. 

Lessons unlearned: In his closing statement, Schiff said, “In many respects it looks like we have taken one step forward and two steps back when we look at where we are now compared to where we were four years ago.” In fact, it was less than a day before Trump was courting the conspiracy crowd once again.

References

  1. ^ online disinformation is now more widespread than ever (www.technologyreview.com)
  2. ^ Section 230 (www.technologyreview.com)
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