AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Does “disinformation” on the Internet actually do anything — even to persuade? When the freak-out over Russia-generated Facebook and Twitter memes began in late 2016, I repeatedly asked one basic question: where is the evidence that these campaigns changed even one single vote?
Ah, the old correlation-is-causation fallacy! We see that happen plenty of times, only perhaps only recently has it become so pronounced and on so wide a basis. The assumption behind the “disinformation” panic is that a meme has a butterfly effect of sorts; an image of Hillary armwrestling Jesus will somehow set off a network effect that causes her to lose Wisconsin. Never mind that one can point to the fact that Clinton never bothered to personally campaign in Wisconsin can better and more directly explain the loss, or that her overall national narrative of gender entitlement likely turned off a large number of persuadable voters. Or as Hillary called them, deplorable voters.
That set of incentives helps explain why Zuckerberg went from questioning causation to fully buying into the panic. Add to that the political pressure from Congress, which set itself up as a sort of witch-hunt tribunal in 2017 after the election, and the evolution grows more clear. Don’t just blame one political party for that either; Democrats may have created those incentives, but some Republicans in Congress applied the same pressure in service to their own interests. It’s not difficult to interpret how Zuckerberg saw the writing on the wall in 2017.