On the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol, Big Tech host Taylor Owen sits down with Craig Silverman to discuss how the rise of false facts led us to that moment. Silverman is a journalist for ProPublica and previously worked at Buzzfeed News, and is the editor of the Verification Handbook series.
Before Donald Trump popularized “fake news” as a blanket term to attack mainstream news outlets, Silverman had been using it to mean something different and very specific. Fake news, also known as misinformation, disinformation or false facts, is online content that has been intentionally created to be shared on social media platforms. Before it was weaponized as a tool for election interference, fake news was simply a lucrative clickbait market that saw higher engagement than traditional media. And social media platforms’ algorithms amplified it because that higher engagement meant people spent more time on the platforms and boosted their ad revenue.
After establishing the origins of misinformation and how it was used to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election, Owen and Silverman discuss how Facebook, in particular, responded to the 2020 US presidential election. Starting in September 2020, the company established a civic integrity team focusing on, among other issues, its role in elections globally and removed posts, groups and users that were promoting misinformation. Silverman describes what happens next. “After the election, what does Facebook do? Well, it gets rid of the whole civic integrity team, including the group’s task force. And so, as things get worse and worse leading up to January 6, nobody is on the job in a very focused way.” Before long, Facebook groups had “become an absolute hotbed and cesspool of delegitimization, death threats, all this kind of stuff,” explains Silverman. The lie that the election had been rigged was spreading unchecked via organized efforts on Facebook. Within a few weeks of the civic integrity team’s dismantling, Trump’s supporters arrived on Capitol Hill to “stop the steal.” It was then, as Silverman puts it, “the real world consequences came home to roost.”