2020-06-24 00:33:18 UTC
In recent weeks, as demonstrations against racism spread across the country, residents in at least 41 U.S. cities and towns became alarmed by rumors that the loose collective of anti-fascist activists known as antifa was headed to their area, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In many cases, they contacted their local law enforcement for help.
In each case, it was for a threat that never appeared.
President Donald Trump has spread some unfounded rumors about antifa to a national audience — including his accusation, without evidence, that a 75-year-old Buffalo, New York, protester who was hospitalized after being knocked down by a police officer could be “an antifa provocateur.”
But on the local level, the source of the false information has usually been more subtle and shows the complexity of reining in misinformation online. The bad information often first appears in a Twitter or Facebook post, or a YouTube video. It is then shared on online spaces like local Facebook groups, the neighborhood social networking app Nextdoor and community texting networks. These posts can fall under the radar of the tech companies and online fact checkers.
“The dynamic is tricky because many times these local groups don’t have much prior awareness of the body of conspiratorial content surrounding some of these topics,” said Renée DiResta, a disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory. “The first thing they see is a trusted fellow community member giving them a warning.”
Here are four ways that antifa falsehoods spread in local communities.
After One Tweet, Dozens of Calls to Police
On the last weekend in May, police in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, decided to investigate whether busloads of antifa protesters were headed to town. It shows what can happen from a single tweet.
They were responding to a rumor spreading quickly among residents online and first posted to Twitter by the local Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re being told that buses are en route from Fargo for today’s march downtown…,” the group posted on Twitter. “Please bring in any furniture, signs, etc. that could be possibly thrown through windows.” ... (cont)