In late October 2020, a number of people on Facebook appeared to share screenshots of what looked like an article headlined, “Democrats Tried to Slip a Law Banning Pledge of Allegiance Into Aid Package”:
Spread Out Examples
As a matter of fact, anti-disinformation researcher Joohn Choe spotted not one, but many posts claiming Democrats “tried to slip a law banning the Pledge of Allegiance” into an aid package of some description. Choe observed that not only did the message appear in a tight burst chronologically, but that content of that description had a decidedly coordinated appearance:
Today’s episode of “Say What You See” is interactive.
Do this: Search, right now, in Facebook, for “Democrats tried to slip a law banning pledge of allegiance into aid package”.
Click on just the photo results, and tell me what you find.
What I find, what I’m showing you right now, meets two conditions for a “disinformation pulse” in my book:
– synchronization – everyone is saying the same thing at the same time, in fact they’re using different screenshots if you look at them
– diversity – the people saying it are unrelated and diverse, they appear to have no connection to each other
What’s more… all this activity is recent. Past-week recent.
So. What explains, this folks?
4chan troll army? That’s an America’s Last Line of Defense post they’re using; not sure if that’d add to or diminish from that theory. It’s also across a very wide variety of hacked and suspicious accounts, not just one-off 4chan troll accounts.
PAC or lobbyist? But what political cause is it supporting? Which candidate is it helping? I can’t see a distribution signature geographically that answers that question, these users and shares are global.
Spammer? It uses spammer network content, but it uses a lot of different networks’ content. And it doesn’t attempt to commercialize on it in any way.
Or… nation-state? But then, which one?
As Choe explained, the posts appeared in a short span, with fairly consistent messaging and frequency.
Absent from the October 2020 screenshots, but visible in the source material, was the category under which the piece was filed, called “Confirmation Bias Fiction For Boomers.” It began:
In stunning new findings released by the Dunning-Kruger Institute, Democrats were found to have added provisions to ban the Pledge of Allegiance, into the emergency aid package. The language, added by Pelosi and Schumer, was very clear of its intention:
“The passing of this legislative package will also outlaw the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in all schools in the United States. This statute will go into effect immediately upon this bill’s passage. Anyone found guilty of reciting the Pledge will be charged with grand heresy, and punished by up to 10 years in a federal penitentiary and a fine of no less than $20,000.”
Right off the bat, mention of the “Dunning-Kruger Institute” alluded to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a well-documented cognitive bias in which “people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability,” and which comes from “the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability.” Further, text of the article claimed that individuals found guilty would be “charged with grand heresy, and punished by up to 10 years in a federal penitentiary and a fine of no less than $20,000.” And finally, an “About” page at BustaTroll.org explained:
Everything on this website is fiction. It is not a lie and it is not fake news because it is not real. If you believe that it is real, you should have your head examined. Any similarities between this site’s pure fantasy and actual people, places, and events are purely coincidental and all images should be considered altered and satirical. See above if you’re still having an issue with that satire thing.
It was never true that Democrats tried to “slip a law” banning the Pledge of Allegiance into any aid package of any description at any other time; that false claim came from a satire site. It was still untrue when it was repurposed and spread in a diffused cluster in late October 2020 six months after its initial publication, accompanied by screenshots which had cropped out its “Confirmation Bias Fiction For Boomers” tag.