For the past year, my team of three volunteers and I have immersed ourselves into monitoring the political right. We’ve attended rallies and events, monitored social media pages across multiple platforms, lurked in internet chatrooms, and watched countless shows and podcasts. The right-wing disinformation machine is powerful, effective and coordinated. It is filled with alternative facts and conspiracy theories about election fraud, COVID, vaccines, school policies, the border, foreign affairs, cryptocurrencies, and many, many other topics. They use fabricated “studies,” doctored “reports and journals” with dubious or anonymous sources, fake and deceptively edited videos.
What we have tried to do is record, chronicle, and document a small, but representative, sample from this ecosystem. We post video clips on Twitter showing what these folks are saying and doing. But while I think we’ve performed a useful function by highlighting and sometimes fact-checking these claims and conspiracies, what we do doesn’t combat the actual biggest problem.
Because the biggest problem is that in today’s Republican party, the tail is often wagging the dog, with GOP elites increasingly getting their talking points and ideas from media influencers on podcasts, social media sites, and television. These influencers, with their millions of thoroughly indoctrinated followers, push elected Republicans into saying what they want to hear, rather than the other way around. We have watched this happen repeatedly, where positions are created in the alternative-media universe only to be adopted later by elected officials in Congress or at the local level.
As for the rest of America, neither the left, the center left, nor the Democratic party has any real coordinated effort to counter this right-wing ecosystem. Every week we watch as Republicans gather at huge conferences, rallies, seminars, and classes where candidates and activists are recruited and indoctrinated. Nothing like that is happening on the left.
Instead, the rest of America relies on traditional, mainstream institutions to fight this 21st-century information war. By the time a mainstream media outlet even becomes aware of something going viral in the right-wing disinformation stream, their article or TV segment fact-checking it is too late (and often too tepid) to be an effective counter. The traditional means of dealing with fabrications and deception are ineffective in the new internet-based information age.
And the truth is, the traditional media is constitutionally incapable of being a counter to the alternative ecosystem the right-wing has constructed. Our media is structured to report facts about the way the world functions in a liberal society, not act as a counterweight to an else-worlds propaganda machine.
So if the traditional media can’t do it, how about the Democratic party? Sadly, they’re not in the game in any way. Either Democrats fail to recognize what is happening, don’t understand it, or think that a handful of PACs and White House press conferences are sufficient to deal with it. Either way, they’re wrong. The DNC’s “War Room” looks like a Victorian tea party compared to what Republicans do on a daily basis. It is shocking to watch both sides operate each day, and see how much more effective the GOP is at messaging.
If the Democratic party had even five intelligent, relentless, full-time people working as a team to fight the right-wing disinformation war, it would be more effective than all the traditional media outlets combined. Again: It isn’t the media’s job to fight partisan battles and the media as it currently exists simply isn’t configured to fight bad-faith, malicious propaganda and disinformation. But also, there are things that can be done by a partisan political group that traditional media cannot, will not, and should not do.
What would this team do exactly? Generally, it must identify what is being said and done on the right across multiple platforms, settings, and venues. Their game plans for today, this week, this month, and this year are all there, out in the open. Once you become aware of disinformation, it can be proven false and countered immediately. And then Democrats should take the fight directly to the right on their own platforms. I believe that many of the people who have been turned by lies can be won back with irrefutable truth—but the truth has to be put right in front of them, meeting them where they are.
It’s not to discredit most of the BS that comes from the right-wing echo chamber. Most of the “experts” there are obvious charlatans—quick searches of their backgrounds, credentials, and things they have said in the past almost always shows that they are frauds. But the people inside the echo chamber hearing them don’t know it. Democrats ought to work overtime to pierce that bubble.
Social media has presented a unique challenge to American politics, spreading a virus of right-wing deception and disinformation. We need an effective, organized effort to use the same aspects of social media which have allowed this virus to thrive, to kill it.