With the midterms approaching, an expert has warned voters that disinformation is rife and urged social media users to factcheck their information. The issue was highlighted when news emerged that the suspect in Paul Pelosi’s attack allegedly shared debunked conspiracy theories on social media.
The suspect, David DePape, 42, has been charged by federal prosecutors with assault and attempted kidnapping in relation to Friday’s pre-dawn break in at the Pelosi’s home. He is also facing several state charges, including attempted murder.
The role that political rhetoric and disinformation may have played in the attack on Paul Pelosi dominated the US news cycle Sunday.
Top Democrats have blamed Republican rhetoric as inciting the attack, while senior Republicans have rejected the claims. Major figures on both sides of the aisle condemned the violence.
“In past elections, misinformation and disinformation were aberrations. In the past few years, they have become endemic and are omnipresent. There are important differences in kind and degree,” said Professor Johannes M. Bauer, a researcher in the field from Michigan State University told Express.co.uk.
He added that while misinformation was sharing “erroneous” information without intending to mislead, disinformation was intended to “mislead, deceive, manipulate, or to generate a revenue stream” – many conspiracy theories are likely to fall into this category.
The far-right Stop the Steal movement, which alleges that there was widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election, is one such conspiracy theory.
However, Democrats did not just highlight disinformation as a potential factor in the attack. They also pointed to what they call increasingly hostile rhetoric from their Republican counterparts.
For example, National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota) posted a video last week of himself firing a gun with the hashtag #FirePelosi.
READ MORE: Man arrested for 2017 killing of two teen girls
He added: “Populism, using simplistic explanations and claims, often associated with blaming elites, is a counterreaction. The associated simplistic messages lend themselves well for dissemination via social media.”
He noted that much of the disinformation tended to be generated on the more “radical ends of the political spectrum.” It is these ends which are most often associated populism.
For now, individuals needed to use “a good deal of common sense and scepticism” to root out disinformation. He advised people to use factcheckers such as FactCheck.org or Politifact.
Dr Bauer, however, did not support social media companies “filtering messages” arguing that “this is a very slippery slope to uncontrolled forms of censorship by private corporations”.