Decoder Newsletter: What Next? Disinformation Post-Election

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins and Viviana Padelli | November 09, 2020

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  • Trump Twitter: In the wake of the election, several Democratic lawmakers called for Trump’s Twitter account to be suspended until the outcome was decided, to curtail the spread of disinformation. Later, nonpartisan groups including Common Cause and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law joined the call. Twitter did not suspend the account. However, Kurt Wagner writes in Bloomberg that the company has confirmed Trump will lose his ‘public interest’ protections once he leaves office. One-time surrogate Steve Bannon has now been suspended permanently from Twitter after suggesting that some government officials should be beheaded.


  • Speaking of inciting violence: The metric Facebook uses for measuring ‘violence and incitement trends’ is rising, Buzzfeed reports. There was a 45% increase in the metric, which is internal, and has not previously been reported. A new survey from Reuters and digital intelligence firm CounterAction also found that violent rhetoric was rife in thousands of political groups on the platform. 

  • Privacy please: As Wired reports, one of the subplots of this election has been voters’ clear preference for more privacy. In California, voters passed Proposition 24, which regulates data tracking and gathering. In Michigan, there was overwhelming support for Proposition 2, which requires warrants to access a person’s electronic data. As the Wired article details, the propositions have somewhat thrown into disarray traditional partisan divides, and suggest that strengthening privacy laws post-2020 could be a complex endeavor.

  • QAnon & polling errors?: In the wake of the election there are many questions about why the polls (at least by current tallies) seem to have been so wrong in some states. One study, by researchers at the University of Southern California, suggests part of the answer may lie with the QAnon conspiracy theory. The researchers, “identified a strong statistical correlation between state polls that underestimated Mr. Trump’s chances and a higher-than-average volume of QAnon activity in those states.”

  • What next?: In the Columbia Journalism Review, Joel Simon writes that many major tech platforms seem to have finally dropped their guiding principle of avoiding content moderation. He reviews how we got to this point, as well as what the next steps for big tech should be, and examines some interesting proposals for reducing online disinformation.

  • Addressing online harassment: New President-elect Joe Biden’s plan for ending violence against women includes the intention to convene a national task force focusing on the connection between online harassment, mass shootings, extremism, and violence against women. The task force will also consider the thorny issue of platform accountability, as well as reporting requirements, and best practices.