Disinformation in the US 2020 elections (Overview)

Although listed under Services, this is in fact a Zettelkasten Overview supporting my newsletter for the next few months, during which it will focus on Disinformation in the US2020 elections. As explained 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 one processes Literature & Fleeting Notes. Like all PermNotes, they are usually written for oneself - this one's public as I'm working out loud. So don't expect Shakespeare, and forgive links to other Permanent Notes, accessible only to me (labelled 'private')
  • This overview was created as I wrote the first edition of the newsletter, and so provides a gateway to key Permanent Notes and Curated Resources harvested from the oldest 7 relevant Curated Resources. I will continue to update it (and experiment with the form) as an integral part of my personal content strategy (see Don’t just Build a Second Brain: share (part of) it).
  • You can subscribe to and/or browse my enewsletter and/or get an RSS feed of the Curated Resources as I curate them.

Created 5 September 2020. Last Update: 7 September 2020. Curated Resources covered: 10
Key MyHub.ai tags: #US2020 and #Disinformation (Latest 9 Best, below)
Key Roam tags: #us2020 and #PermNote (private)


Predicting future disinformation in 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 used by domestic groups, notably GOP =censorship through noise on an epic scale, practised by a sitting President on a domestic population.

Social v. mainstream media


Attacks on independent journalists part of the 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:

  • 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. Still provoked major attack from Trump cf free speech (on Twitter)
  • Facebook Fired An Employee Who Collected Evidence Of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment - Facebook account managers for important pages interfering with processing of #factcheck results
  • 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?

Psychological toll

Immune system over-response:

  • media response to Russian disinfo CAN magnify it and instill a sense of danger - precisely the goal.

A domestic disinformation war must take a terrible toll on individuals, as well as society.

  • hateful content
  • being hounded out of the public sphere
  • fearing to speak openly and lose your social group
  • inability to trust anything, to even believe the truth can be known, paranoia & fear (private)


  • "if the goal is disruption and confusion", being thought to have an effect is as good as actually having an effect.


Undermining legitimacy of election before it takes place: major Trump & #disinfo effort, spanning social media to postal fraud.

Foreign actors

  • https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/01/technology/facebook-russia-disinformation-election.html
    • 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
  • https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/09/14/is-russian-meddling-as-dangerous-as-we-think
    • IRA probably nowhere near as dangerous as Trump & Fox News himself - they can get a hashtag trending, and may convince a few people, but he can get people to poison themselves with bleach with a single press conference
    • but the psychological toll of the existence of disinformation has a major impact

Social media platforms

Not ready: https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/09/facebook-has-been-terrible-about-removing-vaccine-misinformation-will-it-do-better-with-election-misinformation/

  • Dealt with under 5% posts flagged for misinformation
  • election-related disinformation policies unclear, particularly concerning content to #delegitimise the election

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?


Look in the mirror

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.




  • 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


Automated links to relevant public Curated Resources follow:


Stuff I (Really) like

Here are the latest 8 resources I've Highlighted about Disinformation in the US 2020 elections (Overview). There's more reading over here.

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 politi…

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.

The 2020 Election Will Be a War of Disinformation - The Atlantic
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The president’s reelection campaign ... multimillion-dollar ad blitz ... shaping Americans’ understanding of ... impeachment ... micro-targeted ads ... portraying Trump as a heroic reformer ... while Democrats plotted a coup... An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape ... I wanted to see it from the inside...I was surprised by the effec…

What lessons haven’t we learned since 2016? Lesson 1: RAGE - Stand Up Republic
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The rage-engage cycle is a key part of how malign narratives gain traction on social media... into traditional media... disinformation content is designed to be polarizing... exploits the business models of social media... pointing out that something is false and dangerous ... giving more oxygen to the fire... [Trump] tests and revises purposefull…

Disinformation For Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online
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for manipulating public opinion... automation and artificial intelligence “can quickly generate traffic and publicity much faster than people.”...If disinformation in 2016 was characterized by Macedonian spammers... Russian trolls... 2020 is shaping up to be the year communications pros for hire provide sophisticated online propaganda operations .…

5 Big Tech Trends That Will Make This Election Look Tame

If you think this election is insane, wait until 2020... technologies like AI, machine learning, sensors and networks will accelerate. Political campaigns get ... so personalized that they are scary in their accuracy and timeliness. The single most important factor influencing your voting decision is your social network… so you can bet that politi…

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