Our brief report on events in Washington DC today received a significant number of comments on Facebook. A number of them tried to promote conspiracy theories, engaged in trolling or otherwise drew out attention for further investigation. In the interest of transparency this report highlights why we banned a number of these accounts from our page.

Here is our post which they replied to:

Account1

The comment alleges we are biased for calling out the fake news and conspiracy theories that led to today’s violence. The fake news / conspiracy theories in question include e.g. claims Biden stole the election and that there was widespread election fraud.

In a later post they seek to down play the attack on Congress writing:

The post comes from an account with no visible profile picture, only 46 friends and very few posts. It looks like a trolling account. This is further supported by some of the few likes of this page including Breitbart and the Australian Christian Lobby, both popular among right-wing trolls.

Account 2

Over two comments the user (black) alleges there is a conspiracy by social media companies to mislead the public and specifically that they are covering up crimes of Hunter Biden which President Elect Joe Biden is implicated in. This is a conspiracy theory linked to the infamous Ukraine phone call over which Donald Trump was impeached and claims for which there is no evidence which originated with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The user’s profile has other posts attacking fact checkers and promoting conspiracy theories.

In another example from today, the user posts a link to an article claiming today’s violence at the capital was a result of ANTIFA. The only problem is that the source is the Washington Times. According to the SPLC, the Washington Times is known as the “Fox News” of print media, a conservative publication with a history of inaccurate reporting and journalists resigning for ethical reasons.

Accounts 3 & 4

An account claims the reporting is fake news. Someone else replies that “any news that supports trumps lies is fake news”. A third account replied “Then you deserve whats comming” [sic]. The first user (black) and third (purple) were banned.

The first poster (black) is a retired artist. There is very little to his Facebook besides pictures of his art and of nature.

The third poster (purple) has no public posts on their profile since 2015, but posted a range of other comments on our page:

Account 5

Other posters also make make claims that Antifa rather than Trump supporters were responsible for the violence at the Capital. One user posted a tweet to our page to “prove this”.

The Tweet shows the same two men in the capital and on an antifa website. Here is the tweet full size (click to enlarge).

The problem with this is that the antifa site doesn’t contain pictures of antifa activists, it contains pictures and details of known far-right activists. One Twitter user replied with an image of a viral tweet demonstrating this and naming the people in the picture.

Account 6

Account 6 also claimed that it was a false flag operation by Antifa activists from BLM.

Analysis

The final post highlights the real problem. Donald Trump and elements of the political right have worked for years to undermined trust in mainstream media. At the same time they have championed “alternative” media, including social media channels that reinforce that massage while spreading a combination of bias, misinformation, and outright lies.

The result is a large segment of the population who rely on these biased sources, and often on information they get 3rd or 4th hand with no link a credible source in sight. It is creating a divide in which civil society, including the media, academics and NGOs are seen as unreliable by these people. Scientists and doctors are seen as unreliable. This has immediate consequences with vaccinations, but also longer term consequences when it comes to the ability of the electorate to act in an informed manner.

Recovering from this situation is going to be difficult, particularly for the United States, but also here in Australia. One of the banned users above is from the United States, the rest are Australian. This is our problem as well.