Digital misinformation that resulted in violent unrest at the Capitol last week has gone past false claims and has reached the stage of "radicalization," investigators told a conference panel on Tuesday.
"This is not about false claims, or even conspiracies, but many of the people at the Capitol are now part of a completely alternate reality," said Claire Wardle, co-founder of anti-disinformation non-profit First Draft.
She added that people should stop considering online conspiracies as existing separately from real-world injury, "They're not just sitting at home in their pyjamas clicking 'yes I agree,' they're out there with... guns and pipe bombs."
Violent rhetoric online platforms ramped up in fourteen days before a week's unrest at the Capitol as right-wing groups intended openly for the storming of the Capitol building, according to researchers.
Wardle and Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, both emphasized that these conspiracy theories could outlast the Trump administration and stated it would probably play into forthcoming events such as the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"One of the biggest trends that we saw throughout 2020 was this convergence of different types of conspiracy theories," said Brookie, on the panel moderated by Reuters Fact Check senior manufacturer Christina Anagnostopoulos.
Following the unrest, tech firms scrambled to crack down on baseless claims of election fraud and articles which could wreak havoc. Twitter and Facebook last week blocked Trump's accounts, while Amazon Web Services (AWS) along with the major app stores cut off Social Media network Parler.
On the other hand, the researchers criticized the reactive character of tech giants' actions.
"I'm so frustrated they are taking knee-jerk conclusions in the centre of an insurrection," said Wardle, who said she was concerned about the lack of transparency and oversight around these decisions.
On Monday, Facebook said it would ban content with the phrase 'stop the steal,' which has become a rallying cry around pro-Trump baseless claims of election fraud, before President-elect Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.
The FBI has warned of armed protests being planned for Washington DC and all 50 US state capitals in the run-up to the inauguration, a federal law enforcement source told Reuters.
In a Reuters Next panel on Monday, Camille Francois, the Chief Innovation Officer at social media analytics business Graphika and Preston Golson, director at strategic advisory firm Brunswick Group also emphasized the growing threat of real-world harms from online disinformation in corporate industries, likening its spread to "a woods fire" taking hold of combustible material.
The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Translation from English to other languages via Google Cloud Translation. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford. Editing by Nick Zieminski.
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