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Misinformation Expert Warns About the Great Risks of Political Tampering In the 2020 Election

David Jelke

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Photo of Craig Silverman contemplating celebrity trolls by David Jelke

WASHINGTON February 19, 2020— A “very complicated media infrastructure” that is both corrupt and creative is developing in the world of political misinformation, warned Craig Silverman, the media editor for BuzzFeed in a talk at George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics this Tuesday.

There has been an increase in attention and concern about misinformation among the general public since the 2016 Election, said Silverman. However, the public has generally not heard of a new crop of small-time – yet equally disruptive – players in the fake news economy. Indeed, he warned that voters are more at risk of political tampering in 2020 than they were in 2016.

These range from individual actors, “black PR” firms, and whole governments. Silverman listed a litany of examples.

A former NASDAQ analyst was determined by a BuzzFeed investigation to be the actor behind a slew of an imposter local media websites.

These websites flood their pages with outdated news stories and post broken links in attempts to give the appearance of legitimacy. For example, an imposter website for Albany, New York, garnered more clicks than any other local Albany publication, and advertisers who can’t tell the difference divert revenue to the pockets of those imposters.

Silverman related how political opponents of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte have adopted the same duplicitous social media tactics that Duterte used to dupe voters and rise to power as a strongman. Filipino politicians seemed to have chosen to adapt rather than fight, stated Silverman.

Most strikingly, of the 27 attempts by “black-hat affiliate marketers” to influence politics dating back to 2011 in Bahrain, 19 of them have occurred in 2019. In 2018, only one occurred. Even though these kinds of campaigns have yet to occur in the U.S., Silverman warned that the time when that happens is not far off.

One particularly egregious example was that of an Israeli “black PR” firm called Archimedes Group that tried to influence several African elections. Their motto was “molding reality to our clients’ wishes.”

This concept of a fluid morality reappeared in Silverman’s analysis of both far-right and far-left misinformation in the U.S.

Silverman documented the rise of fringe conspiracy blog QAnon and its declaration of a global pedophile cabal. “If you want to live in those communities, you can do that,” lamented Silverman.

Silverman also dissected an incident last week where Pete Buttigieg’s campaign communications adviser was falsely accused by Bernie Sanders’ supporters of impersonating a pro-Buttigieg Nigerian man on Twitter.

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