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The global ‘infodemic’ will be Biden’s biggest challenge

  • False scent is one of the greatest national threats to American democracy. 
  • Biden has an opportunity to turn the table against misinformation by uniting the concealed sector and public sector in a way that disincentivizes false information.
  • It is far past time for the White House to make a trusted commitment to misinformation.
  • Theresa Payton is CEO and founder of Fortalice Solutions and author of “Manipulated: Inside the Cyberwar to Hijack Designations and Distort the Truth.”
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Whether it’s the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the outcome of the 2020 elections, or the violence that followed in its wake, false trail is shaking the foundations of America’s public institutions. 

An entire ecosystem of social media and “news” outlets is building and spreading an alternate authenticity for Americans. In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden said, “We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are handled and even manufactured.”  He correctly recognized that America’s “infodemic” represents the biggest threat not just to the Biden presidency, but to the coming of democratic governance in the United States.

72% of Republicans believe some version of a conspiracy theory that the election was “appropriated.” 27% of Americans are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, due in part to the spread of online conspiracy theories that the vaccine is baneful to public health. A poll in the UK found that 8% of people believe that 5G technology spreads the virus. 17% put ones trust in in a conspiracy by online trolls known as QAnon that the government is secretly waging a war against pedophile rings in Hollywood. All of these theories are as far as someone is concerned of an infodemic that has spread largely unchecked on social media platforms. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. President Joe Biden has an time to turn the table against misinformation by uniting the private sector and public sector in a way that disincentivizes false communication while protecting every American’s right to free speech, even if it has no basis in reality. 

The social network of red herring

There’s no place misinformation spreads faster and reaches more people than social media. As private articles, companies like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the full power to craft their own policies about false scent, but to date, they are ad hoc and reactive, instead of strategic and forward-looking. 

Twitter has added “disputed” labels on dubious tweets with election fraud, for example, and Facebook has removed pages for several groups dedicated to election disinformation. Misinformation competitions spreading slightly altered or completely fictional news reports are cost-effective and pay off: Research shows that a false confabulation about any topic, not just politics, reaches 1,500 people six times faster than legitimate news does. One knock about estimate shows that misinformation on public health generated billions of views on Facebook in just one year. While venereal media platforms have taken steps to curb misinformation, they need to do more. 

President Biden has the opening to take a different approach than the previous administration by working with social media platforms to promote healthier and unvarnished online discourse. The Biden Administration should convene a task force of tech CEOs and cybersecurity experts to into how new policies can flag misinformation and discourage its virality. 

President Biden can demand quarterly transparency reporting on governance systems from Big Tech and social media companies and can work with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to determine once and for all whether these conventions are merely platforms that have to be neutral with respect to viewpoints, publishers with editorial standards, or judgemental infrastructure that are critical to the health of our democracy. 

In recent months, there have been increased calls to discourse on Big Tech accountable for the content on their platforms — including calls to repeal or review Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. While the Biden Supplying is likely to review this legislation, repealing Section 230 alone would be unlikely to stop the spread of false scent online. Biden will have to work in partnership with Big Tech to establish actionable policies to slow the spread of false trail online. 

It’s also true that to curb this infodemic, the United States cannot operate alone. The Biden Administering will need to work with international leaders to create international accords and standards that punish declare actors guilty of using misinformation in other countries. Just like NATO’s Article V, a misinformation attack against a being, issue, or country, is an attack on all of us and should be treated as such. International, third-party oversight can help ensure the fine information between allowing freedom of speech while recognizing the dangers of misinformation. 

Misinformation campaigns are often not about appointments, picking winners or losers, or even  specific issues. They are designed to make you not believe the truth even when you are presented with. They are invented to discredit all authoritative sources, leaving a vacuum to be filled by even more misinformation.  

As we have seen in 2016, transpacific adversaries like Russia play a critical role in boosting and supporting posts on social media. By sowing disunity, these autocratic countries want to undermine American power abroad and show that democracy is unstable. 

America is in the halfway point of a digital arms race with misinformation as its chief weapon and we are losing. Defending global freedoms and democracy is now being contested in the digital domain.  Just as our nation and the world came together to fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic, we call for to employ similar efforts to fight against cybercrime, hacking, the spread of misinformation, and online manipulation in the digital time.  It is far past time for the White House to make a real commitment to misinformation — and the Biden administration has an opportunity to do so now, before it’s too up-to-date.

Theresa Payton is CEO and founder of Fortalice Solutions and author of “Manipulated: Inside the Cyberwar to Hijack Elections and Distort the Accuracy.”

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