How fake new spreads: a real-time dissection

Melania, the US First Lady, was trending on Twitter on Monday thanks to a clip of her supposedly refusing to take President Donald Trump’s hand as she stepped out of Air Force One.

Scores of media outfits quickly repackaged the content, echoing the sentiment that it showed the First Lady rebuffing her husband’s attempts to take her hand in their headlines.

Even where media outlets added the alternative perspective (that Melania may have been holding her skirt down due to the wind) the combination of a provocative headline and clipped video content will have been enough to make an impression on a significant amount of social media users Monday.

But equally, for all those who will have been convinced by the footage that Melania is using small acts of hand-holding rebellion to signal her disapproval of Trump, there will have been a similar number triggered and enraged by the bias, citing it as proof that the mainstream media really is corrupt, unfair and untrustworthy.

The more reasonable take is that disinformation operations are in play to purposefully trigger both sides of the political spectrum. The end objective may not be to back any particular winner, but rather to undermine democracy by making it look increasingly chaotic, ineffective and shambolic, so that authoritarianism or one-party rule looks all the more appealing. Divide and conquer so to speak.

Those under attack in that case are not really the left or the right, it’s the reasonable, moderate and successful middle classes, whose existence, in part, makes authoritarianism look untenable.

And mostly, if you peruse the alternative media as well as the mainstream press, you can see the tactics are currently pretty evenly spread out with emotions being used as a key attack vector.

Where the overcharged left looks to any proof that those closest to Trump, and his staunchest supporters, are secretly disgusted by his actions and desperate to escape his grip, the increasingly radicalised right has become obsessed with the idea that all democrats are turning a blind eye to, if not facilitating, child sex-trafficking rings.

The latter has now resulted in Joe Biden being obsessively taunted for his sniffing of minors incident in 2017, with footage edited to make it look far more sinister than the reality thanks to the addition of creepy music, slo-mo and carefully selected stills.

As the disinfo ops step up in the run-up to November it is important everyone stays on their guard and considers the facts when something is too good to be true or seemingly brazenly false.

Disclaimer: Sean F. Kew does not exist. He is a fake persona made up to illustrate the problem of social media disinfo ops. This article, which is not fake news, was written by Izabella Kaminska.

Related links:
Let’s call Trump out, but let’s get our facts straight too – FT Alphaville
It’s a great time for conspiracy theories to thrive – FT Alphaville

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