Disinformation in the US 2020 elections (Overview)

Although listed under Services, this is a Zettelkasten Overview supporting my newsletter (Sept 2020-present), during its focus on Disinformation in the US2020 elections, as explained fully in Don’t just Build a Second Brain: share (part of) it.


  • In Zettelkasten, Overviews are a special kind of Permanent Note, created/updated as you process Literature & Fleeting Notes, so it provides a (gateway to /summary of) the Permanent Notes and Curated Resources created as I research & write my newsletter.
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Last Update: 25 October 2020. Curated Resources covered: 41
Key MyHub.ai tags: #US2020 and #Disinformation (Latest 9 Best, below)
Key Roam tags: #us2020 and #PermNote (private)


Hindsight: Predictions from 2016

Where new technology enables, new forms of disinformation follow, so predicting social media tech trends should help prepare for future forms of disinformation. Clearly noone's having much success:


How better to predict (political) application of emerging (social media) tech? Ask:

  • Cui bono: who and how can make money/power out of it?
  • where? Not just usual suspects (St Petersburg): think Philippines, Macedonia. Where next?
  • who will mainstream it from there? think #BlackPR firms, #domestic adoption (next)

Domestic Disinformation

IRA's 2016 tactics now mainstreamed by domestic groups, notably GOP =censorship through noise on an epic scale, practised by a sitting President on a domestic population. IRA probably nowhere near as dangerous as Trump & Fox News himself - Russians can get a hashtag trending and may convince a few people, but Trump can get people to poison themselves with bleach with a single press conference.

See: #domestic and #disinformation.

Social v. mainstream media

Attacks on independent journalists integral part of the domestic disinfo package:

  • reflects greater fear of them than of social media platforms?
  • echoes political pressure on newspapers in the past:
    • what's the difference?
    • what's the same?
  • Platforms fearing regulation - existential attack on business model.
  • Mainstream media, on the other hand, inherited 20th century culture more resistant to political pressure - far from perfect, but idea there in theory. But now:
    • undermined economically by the platforms who lack this culture entirely and bend more easily to political force?
    • competing with AI-driven #pink slime

See: #media and #social media


Undermining legitimacy of election before it takes place has been a major Trump #disinfo effort, spanning social media to postal fraud, starting months before election:

  • Covid19-driven means mail-in voting will be larger than average, but Trump's base is likely to vote in person;
  • in-person votes will be counted first, so early results will be pro-Trump, with mailed votes slowly turning the tide towards Biden.
  • Claiming victory and seeing it overturned by mailed votes - which Trump has repeatedly claimed are open to fraud - is a perfect Trump narrative for delegitimising the vote if he loses.
  • probably why he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

Bigger picture: the idea that postal voting is flawed is pure disinformation, but has a long history as part of GOP's voter suppression campaigns - Time.

See: delegitimise.

Foreign actors: waiting in the wings?

From ed. 4: (mid-October): There are two possible reasons why we are not talking as much about foreign interference. Both could be true. Only one is good news... anyone trying to mess with America probably realises they can’t get Trump re-elected, and so are better off focusing on the post-election period, which offers a “better chance to push more Americans to extremes than ever before”. - Six Disinformation Threats in the Post-Election Period.

They've certainly learnt to be bette at their job. From Russians Again Targeting Americans With Disinformation, Facebook and Twitter Say:

  • New tactic by IRS: "information laundering": creating the Peace Data website, featuring personas with computer-generated images to create what looked like a legitimate news organization, mixing pop culture, politics and leftwing activism to appeal to a young audience
  • More sophisticated, but the activities on Twitter and Facebook to promote the site "almost overt, designed to be detected". So are they trying to disinform some people, or convince everyone that noone can trust any information? - see Psychological Toll

Psychological toll

Paraphrasing JFK: the only thing we should fear about disinformation is the fear of disinformation.

Immune system over-response:

  • media response to Russian disinfo magnifies it
  • the general sense of danger is more the goal than disinforming/misleading individuals: "if the goal is disruption and confusion", being thought to have an effect is as good as actually having an effect - inability to trust anything, to even believe the truth can be known, paranoia & fear (private)

A domestic disinformation war also takes terrible toll on individuals:

  • hateful content
  • being hounded out of the public sphere
  • fearing to speak openly and lose your social group

Is Russian Meddling as Dangerous as We Think?  | The New Yorker

Social media platforms

Not ready:

Facebook & US2020

  • Dealt with under 5% posts flagged for misinformation
  • Facebook employees increasingly outraged, leaking information
  • Fearing regulation - existential attack on business model - Facebook Fired An Employee Who Collected Evidence Of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment & relaxed misinformation rules for conservative pages - Facebook account managers for important pages interfering with processing of #factcheck results. More from Yahoo!
  • contradictory rules: sometimes Facebook will remove disinformation about voting; other times it will apply a warning label. How the company will make that choice is unknown - probably even to them.
  • flip-flopped: set new rules, then changed them, particularly re: delegitimisation, triggering the #Censorship narrative, below
  • election-related disinformation policies unclear, particularly concerning content to #delegitimise election
    • doesn't factcheck political ads or politicians posts, so any post-election censorship against #delegitimise will look hypocritical.
    • banned political ads before election, actually rewarding those with major Facebook followings like Trump, who don't need ads and then get to say that he's being "silenced".

Twitter did ban political ads. Small beer compared to a President with 80m followers, no respect for the truth, a nation-wide infrastructure (GOP) and huge sums of money.

The #Censorship narrative triggered

Sudden flipflops in October inevitably sparked concerns about #censorship, as if this was an entirely new narrative, including a major attack re censorship on Twitter from Trump (on Twitter!).

See: #censorship and #disinformation (starting 2016).

Not helping

  • lack of cooperation by platforms -> harder to detect disinfo campaigns -> harder to fight -
  • if platforms are making money off disinformation, they seem morally obliged to cooperate, but with whom?


Study it

Frameworks for understanding disinfo collected here.

Look in the mirror

Is Russian Meddling as Dangerous as We Think?  | The New Yorker

What does it mean when a society can be so easily manipulated and turned against itself? Blaming Russians diverts responsibility: Trump and Fox News do more damage to US society and truth in general than any Russian, but are they not themselves symptoms as well as a perpetuating cause of a greater underlying problem?

Russian and others exploit flashpoints in American society, and election year 2020 has been rich: #BLM, Covid19 and Trump himself. If American society was more just, stable and fair, those flashpoints would not be there.


A ‘war room’ that arms Black and Latino voters against disinformation:

  • Black/Latino activists targeting disinfo campaigns designed to exploit #BLM anger, alienate & suppress Black voters
  • Counter speech which does not mention - and thus amplify - the disinformation itself:
  • creating recipes to nullify and educate
  • hindered by lack of cooperation from platforms

#Factchecking is not enough: needs to make way for reality-testing and gaslighting-fighting

Reframe as a health issue

cf Clay Johnson's Information Diet, "if there was food that was poisoning us we wouldn’t care how hard the companies were trying" - Twitter bots are impersonating Black Americans to sow disinformation


Automated links to relevant public Curated Resources follow:


Stuff I (Really) like

Here are the latest 9 resources I've Highlighted about Disinformation in the US 2020 elections (Overview). There's more reading over here.

Evaluating contradictory foreign interference allegations in the 2020 U.S. election | by @DFRLab | DFRLab | Oct, 2020 | Medium
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DFRLab’s Foreign Interference Attribution Tracker (FIAT) database (see Interference2020.org) "captures allegations of foreign #us2020 interference... and assesses their credibility, bias, evidence, transparency, and impact".80 allegations were catalogued: a "sharp increase from 2016... vary widely in their evidence and objectivity, …

How Some Conservatives Have Switched to Parler, Rumble and Newsmax (FN)
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Fleeting Note (FN): the creation of Fediverse-based alternatives might suddenly become an urgency.

Domestic v. foreign disinformation: A question of timing (US2020 Disinformation news, ed. 4)
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There are two possible reasons why we are not talking as much about foreign interference. Both could be true. Only one is good news.

QAnon shows that the age of alternative facts will not end with Trump - Columbia Journalism Review
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With more than a dozen congressional candidates appearing on ballots in November, Qanon is mainstream. While it looks like a lot of other conspiracy theories, this research provides a fascinating look at how the conspiracy's "Bakers" co-create their knowledgescape."QAnon doesn’t simply offer readers insider insight into current…

Breaking democracy to hold power (US2020 Disinformation news, ed. 3)
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How a decades-long election delegitimisation campaign, amplified by social media disinformation, intersects with the death of a Chief Justice in a GoT-worthy season finale of “US democracy: Endgame”.

From foreign meddling to pink slime (US2020 Disinformation news, ed. 2)
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This edition’s 9 articles span the real meaning of “foreign meddling” and domestic flashpoints, social media platform preparations for Election Night and beyond, and how media has to go beyond factchecking as it tackles “pink slime” (yes, it’s a thing).

Fact-checking needs to make way for reality-testing and gaslighting-fighting | Press Watch
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Donald Trump literally laughs factchecking off - it's good to have, but insufficient. To establish non-partisan status, factcheckers need to be equally tough on all sides, but all sides don't lie the same. They use euphemisms for 'lie', and check narrow, easy-to-debunk statements while ignoring the larger pattern of "the a…

Is Russian Meddling as Dangerous as We Think?  | The New Yorker
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Literature note: “How to Lose the Information War,” ... on disinformation as a geopolitical strategy...Mueller report: I.R.A.-created groups and accounts reached tens of millions... the troll factory found “authentic, local voices,” to foment large-scale distrust in government and democracy... and managed to get into the heads of powerful politici…

America mainstreaming disinformation against itself (US2020 Disinformation newsletter, ed 1)

I'm (re)launching my newsletter to focus on disinformation during the 2020 US election. It's also part of a wider experiment in integrating Zettelkasten idea and knowledge management into my personal content strategy, hosted on MyHub.ai.

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