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Carl Bergstrom on coronavirus and misinformation

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 08:45 to Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 08:45

“Insidious confusion” is a useful shorthand for how experts say disinformation about coronavirus is mutating and spreading faster than the outbreak itself. University of Washington researchers Jevin West and Carl T. Bergstrom, co-authors of the forthcoming book “Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World,” track the spread of stories like these and teach a course on how to identify misinformation.

Many of the inaccurate reports spreading around bear a resemblance to a disinformation model used by hostile governments of any nation, but known as the “Russian fire hose” strategy. The goal isn’t to convince people of one wrong thing, such as the false claim that vitamin C destroys coronavirus, said Bergstrom, who studies how misinformation travels across networks and spreads like pathogens through populations.

“The idea is to put out so much [bad] information that people feel as if they can’t get to the truth. That creates a kind of power vacuum that leads to what, I guess, is in the interest of certain regimes,” Bergstrom told The Post.

“If you can go from 1 percent of the population believing nutty conspiracies to 5 percent, that’s a win,” he said.

Bergstrom said the endgame for some hostile regimes is to disrupt the smooth function of commerce in rival countries by stirring up anxiety that leads to trade or travel disruptions; within China, hypothetical agitators could be motivated by a desire to make the communist government look bad.

Read the whole article in the Washington Post.

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