Letter from the editor: From fake news to real hate

I’m in rainy Vancouver this morning, which feels a long way from Washington, D.C., the epicentre of next Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections. While they’re a referendum on the presidency of Donald Trump, the midterms will also be a check on how misinformation campaigns have fared on social platforms since the 2016 election—and a foreshadowing of what’s to come in Canada’s 2019 federal election.

Any analysis on this topic has to focus on Facebook. It remains the most effective marketing tool in human history, which political operatives are increasingly using not just to micro-target you with ads, but also to micro-target you with facts.

I asked Craig Silverman—the BuzzFeed reporter who coined the term “fake news” and who’s covered online misinformation campaigns since their beginning—for an assessment of how the midterm campaign has gone thus far. He told me that Facebook has done a lot to eradicate the economic incentives that infamously led Macedonian teens and others to create fake news pages for financial gain. But a far darker and conspiratorial tone has taken their place, led not by outsiders but by the political actors themselves.

“Some falsehoods do not spread as much, but overall, the ground war is so permissive now that broad conspiracies are starting to draw in large numbers of the population,” Silverman said.

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