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Recently, I’ve been able to answer some major questions about what the hell is going on in the world. The answer is ugly. But in actually knowing, we now have a chance to do something about it.

The world operates on just three real things: power, money, and networks. Everything you see, everything you perceive or think you believe is an artifact of the interplay of those forces. Ideology and parties slide around on top of networks, and let us tell stories to ourselves that justify how we interact with networks and power.

People are wired differently. Some people think…

It may seem like an old debate now — and indeed I’m not interested in rehashing the past or re-litigating the 2016 election. But this week, one in which we adjudicated the “boom” that lay at the end of a series of information operations, I wanted to revisit one important point which remains poorly articulated even among experts on the topic.

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A staff member arranges a display showing social media posts during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 1, 2017. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

One morning this week, I tuned into two talks by experts on information operations. Thomas Rid, whose recent book Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare, offers a broad historical overview of information operations employed by…

I wrote this piece in mid-2017 and declined to publish it at the time — I considered it to be perhaps too dark, or an overstatement of the situation. Now, over three years later, I think it was an accurate, if partial, assessment of where things stand. This week I plan to write more on this topic, and I think this is an appropriate time to revisit this piece.

We have all heard about “fake news” and most of us have some sense that there has been a concerted effort to manipulate online news media for political influence.

But for…

Just how long will it take us to report on the disinformation operations that drive division in western society?

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Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of espionage. Hiss’ guilt was never completely settled, but most historians agree that evidence released decades later suggested that Chambers was correct.

Russia’s current disinformation attacks on the west accelerated in late 2012, consisting of three phases:

1) amplify leaked intelligence harmful to US, EU, and NATO, 2) identify and exacerbate real existing divisions in US society, 3) recruit and amplify Americans and other westerners to drive conflict.

Phase 1 involved Assange, Snowden, Manning and others; one can argue about whether and when they became witting vs. unwitting accomplices, and it doesn’t matter for this discussion. Phase 2 involved IRA planting content and…

As we head into this election, I want to make a final statement about the role of misinformation and disinformation, and how it has shaped us.

The goals of information campaigns have never explicitly been about getting you to vote one way or another, though that is a third order side effect. What this has mostly been about is tearing us apart, and importantly, getting you to think less of your neighbors and of your country. The point is to make the American experiment seem failed, and worse, futile. But it is not.

Our myopic exceptionalism and breezy journalistic treatments…

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Radicalization is a social phenomenon, rather than the failure of an individual.

Recently, I have heard from multiple friends who are concerned about family, friends or other loved ones who seem to be losing their grip on reality and falling into conspiracy thinking or other destructive online communities.

As someone who studies this closely, I believe radicalization is accelerating right now. Some conspiracy communities (such as QAnon) have created powerful incentives for participation and can take people from first exposure to a break with reality in a matter of just a few weeks. This is not something to brush off.

For those of you left in the position of wanting to help…

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Where we go one, we go all? (Illustration by the author)

I’d like to offer a warning about radicalization.

The debate currently raging about “cancel culture” is a byproduct of an ongoing process of radicalization and tearing of our social fabric which has been underway for some time. Some of this is intentional and being driven by bad actors; much of it is being driven by the design of technology platforms themselves.

When these platforms were designed, there was very little attention given to questions like, “What kind of society will this tool produce?,” or “How will this change the behavior of the people who use it?” …

Any “return to normal” depends on testing.

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There has been much speculation about when we might expect things to return to “normal.” Never mind the fact that this situation will render our society unrecognizable in ways we can’t quite predict, there are some basic criteria we can look to for understanding what’s required to enable us to turn the economy back on.

First we need to understand that this will not be a top-down decision, but rather a bottom-up one. Individuals need to feel that they are not putting themselves, their families, or their communities at risk by leaving their…

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Social distancing measures mean restrictions and closure for most restaurant dining rooms.

Restaurants are a major part of the global economy and integral to our communities. Social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak have left many restaurant owners feeling helpless. Here are some ideas that may be useful as operators consider ways to handle this disruption—which may last for many weeks or months.

  1. Focus on community health as first priority.
  2. Enable online and phone orders for quick pickup as a first choice, or local delivery as a second choice.
  3. Streamline pickup at restaurant by placing prepared, bagged, and labeled orders on a shelf accessible to customers, to minimize human contact.

The facts, the ethics, and the protective measures you should take

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Photo: CDC/Unsplash

Follow Elemental’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here.

I’m an expert on online disinformation, misinformation, and mathematics relevant to disease transmission. Recently I’ve been answering a lot of common questions about Covid-19 on social media — trying to dispel misconceptions and falsehoods.

In this piece, I’ve compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions and responses, with the hope of making this information more accessible. Please note: I am not a public health or medical professional; however, I have taken extra care to square all my responses here with official guidance and medical advice.

Why are people freaking out about Covid-19 more than flu?

Each person infected with…

Dave Troy

Disinformation researcher, thinker, writer, entrepreneur, TED speaker, and data visualization geek. Twitter: @davetroy Email:

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