Russia’s voter manipulation operations in the last US presidential election damaged the reputation of social media, led by Facebook. The platforms are keen not to repeat the trauma of 2016, but this year, experts assure us, the kings of disinformation are indeed American.
Through videos, photos, false or misleading montages, shared at full speed, the groups which are at the origin of these manipulations seek to pass themselves off as real individuals, with a conservative tendency, and to wreak havoc.
“There is a real fixation on foreign interference, but the people who have the most interest in influencing the outcome of an election are those who reside in the country where it is organized: the Americans”, analysis for AFP Joshua Tucker, professor of political science at New York University.
A recent report from Facebook confirms the trend.
Networks of discord
In the first weeks of October alone, the social media giant deleted 200 accounts and 55 pages on Facebook, and 77 accounts on Instagram, all hosted in the United States.
Drawing on Russian methods from 2016, the aim is to sow political discord and undermine voter confidence in the democratic process, something the FBI accused Moscow of doing in the last poll.
The most egregious example cited by Facebook concerns an American marketing firm that used Arizona teens to post comments that were either pro-Trump or sympathetic to conservative causes, while criticizing the Democratic House candidate. Blanche, Joe Biden.
And according to the work of Mr. Tucker and his colleagues, neither progressives nor conservatives are good at exposing these attempts at manipulation. They are influenced by partisan divides and social media algorithms that cause users to be exposed to only one point of view.
Like Facebook, Twitter is also trying to get active in this area. An account featuring a black cop Donald Trump and the slogan “Vote Republican” was recently deleted because it violated the Blue Bird’s rules for manipulation.
The account had more than 24,000 subscribers for only 8 tweets and a publication “liked” more than 75,000 times. But social media specialists ensure that the detection of this type of account is more of an exception than the norm.
From Pizzagate to QAnon
And the type of fake news spread by Americans has changed dramatically since 2016, warns Professor Russell Muirhead of Dartmouth University.
During the 2016 election campaign, Internet users claimed on the anonymous 4chan discussion forum that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was involved in a pedophile ring established in a Washington pizzeria.
Convinced by this false information, a man attacked this restaurant with an assault rifle, causing no casualties.
But in this electoral cycle, the Pizzagate has been replaced by the conspiracy theories of the QAnon movement, which claims that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a global liberal sect made up of satanist pedophiles.
And his supporters point the finger at his Democratic opponent.
“QAnon now portrays Joe Biden not as a legitimate opponent (of Trump), but as part of this team of globalists who intend to destroy America, with whom we should not argue, but who should eliminate, ”says Professor Muirhead.
However, the most immediate risk of presidential misinformation, Mr. Tucker said, are Mr. Trump’s repeated claims that postal voting will cause “fraud on an unprecedented scale.”
Claims already made in 2016, but contradicted by the FBI.
“This is misinformation,” says Tucker. “There are problems with people not filling out their ballots correctly, there are problems with people receiving their ballots late, but there is no evidence of fraud. large scale.”
He asked, “Who needs the Russians to be questioning the integrity of the democratic process when the President of the United States is doing it himself?”