White supremacists are at home baking cookies while antifa is organizing terror cells. The government is blacking out cell phone signals so you can’t riot. George Soros is paying negro crisis actors. Black people are trying to overthrow the government.
These are just a few of the false narratives surrounding the protest against police brutality sparked by the daytime lynching of George Floyd. As this misinformation spreads, public officials, right-wing advocates and the chief executive of the United States of America are just a few of the entities amplifying these virulent, viral lies that are provably false.
As Donald Trump hid in a bunker on Friday watching this weekend’s protests, he repeatedly blamed the violence and property damage on antifa. Not only did he use every opportunity to invoke the name of the dreaded bogeyman, he even vowed to designate them a terror organization, which he has threatened to do before.
Aside from the fact that national security experts have almost assuredly informed the president that the distinguishing feature of the loose confederation of anti-fascists is that they are not an organization, Trump continues to trumpet this alternative fact while explicitly excusing the white supremacists who have played a part in instigating chaos.
Still, Trump’s allies have latched on to this claim without any proof, which is not surprising. The same people who spent years demanding that Barack Obama provide documentation proving he was not raised in Kenya by a pack of al-Qaida wolves are willing to ignore reports by special prosecutors, whistleblowers and academics. Instead, they know who’s attacking their beloved country:
That myth was destroyed on Tuesday when Twitter announced it had suspended an account that people had been retweeting as an example of antifa’s diabolical plan to destroy America, as Axios reported:
Twitter said Monday that it has suspended an account named “ANTIFA_US” which it says was tied to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa. Over the weekend, the account had called for violence and its posts had widely circulated online.
Why it matters: It’s the latest example of social media being used to exploit and sharpen the very real divisions in American society. It’s also the latest example of Twitter more aggressively rooting out false information on its platform.
“This account violated our platform manipulation and spam policy, specifically the creation of fake accounts,” a Twitter representative told Axios. “We took action after the account sent a Tweet inciting violence and broke the Twitter Rules.”
Twitter has previously taken action on other fake accounts linked to the Identity Evropa group, including ones engaged in targeted hate focused on race, religion and sexual orientation.
Let’s be clear, anti-fascists and anarchists are not the same thing. To be fair, some anti-fascists are anarchists. Some are social justice activists. Some are Christian missionaries. While they don’t really carry membership cards, the only distinguishing feature of the people in the anti-fascist movement is that they are against fascism.
But wait, there’s more.
Twitter also removed two hashtags from its “trending topics” section after “hundreds of spammy accounts” spread the hashtag #BlackoutDC and #DCBlackout, insinuating that the police were jamming cell phone signals at protest sites to discourage sharing information, according to NPR and NBC. While both lies were disputed by journalists on the ground, it was hard to believe those reports after propagandist Max Blumenthal started a rumor that a man was posing as a CNN reporter but was actually an undercover police officer. Of course, it wasn’t true.
Neither was this picture of Washington, D.C. burning, which was shared millions of times on Twitter before someone realized it was a screenshot from the TV show Designated Survivor.
“I hate to say it, but this is typical, said Shireen Mitchell, founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women. “We’re seeing people interfering in the protest, then make it look like black people are doing these things when they aren’t. They’re also pretending to be antifa.”
Mitchell, an author, technology analyst, and diversity strategist whose project tracks online disinformation, voter suppression, and targeted harassment, says that she and her colleagues have seen an uptick in activity from accounts they traced back Russian and Chinese interference actors.
“We have to be worried not only about Russia, but other actors who benefit from this unrest in America,” Mitchell told The Root. “You have to understand that the underpinning of America’s issues have a lot to do with race and that’s what we’re actually in the midst of at this moment. We saw race used in our work we did and our reports with the Russian [campaign] interference and how that was being used against our election. And I am 100 percent sure that these protests, the COVID issues and others are just going to be compiled to interfere in our election coming in November.”
Mitchell is careful to warn that the people who use disinformation can’t be categorized into one political category. While the GOP has weaponized this disinformation to advance their political strategy, she points to the now-proven foreign attacks on Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, explaining how Bernie Sanders was curiously silent on the issue.
“He benefited from it and used it during 2016 and in his whole campaign going into 2020,” Mitchell said. “He used it all the way out until he finally lost ground in South Carolina.
“Ultimately, division and chaos are the goal,” she said. “The problem is—and this is the part that I think people don’t understand—is that there is an entire political party that’s okay with that level of interference for their goals.”
“Sometimes it’s white supremacists. Sometimes it’s. Russia Sometimes it’s China or just regular right-wingers. Everyone will weaponize disinformation to fit their agenda,” explained Mitchell, adding.
“Like disinformation, racism is just the tool they use to reach their goals.”
Correction: 6/3/20 10:11 p.m ET.: Trump was taken to the bunker on Friday night. An earlier version of the story had an incorrect day. It has been updated.