Conspiracy theories collide online as Parler goes dark

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Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, temporarily suspending certification of Joe Biden’s election as the next U.S. president.

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When Apple, Amazon and Google Parler rebooted from their platforms after last week’s deadly riot on Capitol Hill, users of the conservative-favored alternative social network encouraged their followers to join the messaging app Telegram.

And they did.

In a public Telegram group chat with around 16,000 members, a user named Miguel urged President Donald Trump’s supporters to return to DC to make unsubstantiated claims that the November vote had been stolen from the president. “Folks, every patriot in the White House on January 21st to protest election fraud,” wrote the chat user called Parler Lifeboat, referring to the day after the inauguration. Minutes later, another member named Michelle stepped in to wave to other MAGA fans: “It is [a] Configuration.”

The exchange and countless others like this represent a collision of conspiracy theories in the feverish world of pro-Trump support. QAnon Some online watchers report that it is a “psyop” intended to discredit conservatives, despite the crazy conspiracy theory imagining that Trump is fighting satanic sex traffickers urges many supporters to attend its rallies. Protests organized to challenge election results are traps set by Antifa, a loosely grouped anti-fascist movement, say some conservatives.

The rebutted claims that the voices were changed seem normal by comparison.

The wrong ideas started popping up on social media sites big and small, but are being switched to encrypted messaging apps after the hand-to-hand combat on Capitol Hill that killed five people. However, the move to smaller private messaging groups has resulted in conflicting messages and further fragmentation of right-wing online groups. Last week’s deadly riot came after Trump whipped his supporters at a promoted rally in DC on Jan. 6. conspiracy theories It emerged online that Antifa was behind the uprising.

“Without an ‘official’ Trump-sanctioned event to anchor protests and other actions, supporters are unsure who is really behind the inauguration day events,” said Rachel Moran, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington Information School who have studied disinformation.

Still, social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as law enforcement and civil rights groups are preparing for the possibility of further violence in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. Facebook is reportedly tracking flyers promoting protests. These are shared in other parts of the internet and removed when viewed on social media, Instagram, or Messenger.

On Wednesday, Trump tried to distance himself of the attack on the Capitol, said in a Video that “no true supporter of mine could ever advocate political violence.” Law enforcement remains on alert, however, and 20,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to Washington. The FBI reportedly announced in an internal bulletin that it had received information about “armed protests” planned in all 50 state capitals and the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Anonymous chatter on social media includes discussions that new MAGA protests are actually being organized by Antifa or Democrats. A red and yellow flyer posted on Facebook, Twitter and Parler, as well as online forums and messaging apps, called for an armed march on Capitol Hill and all of the state’s capitals on the afternoon of January 17th. “If democracy is destroyed, refuse to be silenced,” explains the poster, which contained a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

Despite the dramatic language and bold imagery, some Trump supporters urged caution and warned others to stay away from the new events. “Communist themed flyers / memes trying to get patriots to turn violent,” wrote a Facebook user in a public pro-Trump group called True Conservatives for Donald Trump 2020. “We have no plans to launch an armed march a capitol building. “

Other Facebook users, repeating the remarks made by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, denounced the event, saying that the “terrorist attack was NOT over” and that the mob that stormed the Capitol were “planning further attacks”. Tree of Liberty, which identifies itself as the press platform for the anti-government far-right Boogaloo movement, said on its website the armed march in DC had been canceled and was not intended to repeat last week’s deadly uprising. Tree of Liberty denied organizing the march and quoted an unnamed “event spokesman”.

However, the website, which went offline as of Wednesday morning, kept a list of addresses identified as state capitals, at least one of which was incorrect. (On the website, the address of Alaska’s capital was in a mall in Anchorage. Alaska’s capital is Juneau.) Tree of Liberty did not respond to a request for comment.

On Wimkin, a social media alternative to Facebook, users are posting information about a “Million Militia March” scheduled for January 20 in Washington. On Twitter, users shared a screenshot of an alleged Parler post urging Trump supporters to return to DC Jan. 19 to “carry our guns.”

As of Jan. 9-10, around 890 posts from 570 QAnon-related Twitter accounts contained the words “initiation” and / or “20”, according to the nonprofit research group Advance Democracy. QAnon falsely claims a “Deep State” trial against Trump and his supporters. Advance Democracy, which previously found social media posts urging Trump supporters to join protests on Jan. 6, said in another report released Tuesday that there were “no similar mass mobilization efforts” related to Jan. January found on social media platforms.

On Facebook, a pro-gun group called Delaware Citizens for the Second Amendment promoted a rally in Delaware on January 20 to honor “Ashli ​​Babbitt,” the 35-year-old Air Force veteran who served in the Capitol Police Department the United States was fatally shot in the Capitol. In one post, the group urged members to “come armed” and “get mad”. A subsequent post said the organizers are not calling for violence or property destruction.


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The possibility of violence, though, has led social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, to crack down on Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. When Twitter permanently barred Trump from the social network on Friday, the company cited a potential Jan. 17 attack on the US Capitol and state capitols. 

On Monday, Facebook said it would pull down content that included the phrase “stop the steal” from its platforms, which has been used by Trump supporters to push bogus claims of election fraud. Facebook users were still using the phrase on Tuesday, though the company said in a blog post it could “take some time to scale up our enforcement of this new step.” The company also indefinitely locked Trump’s official Facebook and Instagram accounts, but pages for his campaign and the White house are still posting videos of the president. One of Trump’s advisers is trying to keep the president from joining fringe social media platforms popular among extremists, such as Gab, CNN reported on Wednesday.

“It is concerning to see new platforms emerge as safe havens for extremist conversation, as it can lead to a deepening of extremist ideologies as views go unmoderated and often unchallenged,” Moran said. “However, removing these accounts from Twitter and Facebook cuts off their oxygen, stopping them from attracting large numbers of new followers and radicalizing on a larger scale.”

On Tuesday, a group of some of Facebook’s toughest critics called on the social media giant to permanently bar Trump, remove all “stop the steal” content that incites violence, allow an independent body to audit public figures and world leaders flagged for inciting violence, and release more information about enforcement of its policy. Yaël Eisenstat, who used to work at Facebook as the global head of elections integrity operations, said in the Harvard Business Review that tech companies should be held accountable for amplifying misinformation and “extreme rhetoric.” The group also called on Facebook advertisers, shareholders and employees to push for the removal of Mark Zuckerberg as CEO.

Even as major social networks crack down on election misinformation and calls for violence, some users are migrating to sites including Telegram. From Jan. 6 to 11, Telegram had roughly 11.8 million installs globally, up 97% from Dec. 31 to Jan. 5 when the app saw roughly 6 million installs, according to mobile analytics company Sensor Tower. Telegram said in its app on Tuesday more than 25 million users joined in the past 72 hours and it had more than 500 million active users.

In group Telegram chats, users shared memes about guns, spewed racist remarks, criticized big tech companies and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Others said Trump had “disavowed the good patriots who stood against tyranny.” One user said “Q is going to decapitate Biden and reinstate Trump as Supreme leader,” referring to the person or group supposedly at the center of the QAnon conspiracy theory. 

The Anti-Defamation League said it found a white supremacist Telegram channel that posted about future plans. “Reminder that the U.S. Presidential Inauguration day is on January 20th. That is the next date on the calendar that the pro-Trump and other nationalist crowds will potentially converge on the Capitol again,” a screenshot of the message said.

At a press conference on Tuesday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said he expects conspiracy theories and misinformation will continue to pop up on Facebook, but the chatter could get more difficult to follow as Trump supporters, QAnon and white supremacists spread across the web.

“These groups are burrowing into darker, more difficult recesses of the internet and social media,” he said, “as well [as] migrate many of their activities to encrypted platforms. “



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Jothi Venkat

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