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False rumors usually begin on the prime

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We know that false information travels online like the worst phone game in the world.

However, we do not speak enough about the role of those responsible, saying too little or the wrong things at important moments, and creating conditions in which misinformation can flourish.

Think recent rumors and outrage about President Trump's health, the Oregon forest fires, and the message of a Netflix movie. Ill-considered communications from the front runners – including the president himself – exacerbated the cycles of falsified information and misdirected anger.

Every word powerful people say is important. It may not be fair, but they must now foresee how their words – intentionally or not – could be twisted into weapons in the online information war.

Take a look at Oregon, for example, where a tweet and other poorly delivered police information contributed to false rumors that left-wing activists intentionally started forest fires.

"We ask you to demonstrate peacefully and without the use of fire," wrote Portland police. There was no evidence that protesters started fires, but people used this and other strange or ambiguous official information as evidence that left-wing provocateurs were responsible for wildfires in the Portland protests.

Local officials, including the Chamber of Commerce in Sioux Falls, S.D., also spread false rumors over the summer that left-wing protesters were traveling to their city to cause trouble.

None of it was true, but the truth doesn't matter in the internet information soup. False or ill-considered official statements can confirm what people have already suspected.

The same happened when Netflix launched an unsuspecting marketing campaign to promote a movie called "Cuties". My colleague described the film as a nuanced exploration of gender and race and how society dangerously blurs the lines between empowerment of girls and sexual exploitation. However, Netflix's promotional materials, including a picture of tween girls posing in dance clothes, gave the false impression that the film sexualized children.

In short, Netflix communications projected the idea that its own movie was the opposite of what it really was. Some politicians, parents, and a Texas prosecutor named the film child pornography and urged Netflix to ban it. The outcry over the film was heightened by proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the misconception that top Democrats and celebrities are behind a global ring of child trafficking.

I want to make it clear: there are always people who twist information for their own purposes. People might have shifted the blame for the forest fires or turned down the complexity of "Cuties" even if the official communications had been perfectly clear from the start. By not carefully choosing their words and images, those responsible provided fuel for misinformation.

We keep seeing that unclear, incorrect or insufficient information is difficult to overcome right from the start.

Conspiracy theories about President Trump's coronavirus diagnosis and health status last week have been fueled by people close to the president speaking incorrectly or covering up what was happening. And the White House's history of spreading false information contributed to a lack of confidence in the official line. (My colleague Kevin Roose also wrote about this fierce speculation about the President's health.)

Nature abhors a vacuum, and the internet turns a vacuum into conspiracies. We all have a role to play in order not to contribute to misinformation, but experts and people in positions of power have even more responsibility for ensuring that they do not create the conditions for false information to go wild.

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Facebook is extending a US political and thematic ads blocking period for days or more after election day – a time when officials may still be counting votes in presidential elections and other competitions.

I would like to make two points. First, the ad failure on Facebook may be smart or ineffective, but they are definitely small fish.

Take a look at your Facebook feed. Much of the overheated and manipulative junk you see wasn't worth it to be there. These posts are there because they make people angry or happy, and Facebook's computer systems are spreading the things that cause an emotional response.

Yes, it's especially annoying when Facebook makes money directly from lies and manipulation. This is a big reason why some civil rights groups and corporate employees have urged internet companies to take a tough line against or ban political ads. But I suspect that most of the things that could upset people if the votes are still being counted after election day are unpaid posts, including from President Trump – not advertisements.

Second, I'm going to say something nice about Facebook. With the company banning any groups or pages that identify with the QAnon conspiracy announced earlier this week, and gradually increasing crackdown on attempted intimidation and premature declarations of election victory, Facebook is showing courage in its beliefs.

That is different. Too often the company fixes itself short-sightedly on technical rules, not on principles, and gives in to its self-interest.

Facebook is sometimes taking a different path because it doesn't want to be blamed – like the company did four years ago – when there is confusion or chaos in the elections. I think it's great that Facebook is a little scared.

It is healthy for the company to ask: what if something goes wrong? Facebook often has nothing to do with catastrophic consequences.

We are all conspirators now: Kevin Roose, a technology columnist for the New York Times, writes that conspiracy theories are a symptom of the broader erosion of authority in the Internet age. "How easily the conspirator's creed – that the official narrative is always a lie and that the truth is for those out there who are willing to dig for it – has penetrated our national psyche," writes Kevin.

LinkedIn includes a variety: During the pandemic and protests against racial injustices, the workplace social network typical of social workers has become a thriving medium for black professionals to express both fun and sadness about racial discrimination and alienation at work, wrote Ashanti M. Martin for The Times. Some LinkedIn users said the company didn't know how to handle it.

Raining money on internet video stars: A small app called Triller tries to steal TikTok stars by paying them for almost everything, including a helicopter for a video shoot and a leased Rolls-Royce with a vanity "TRILLER," writes my colleague Taylor Lorenz. My question: how long can Triller go on like this?

A cute dog that hears a cute melody. It's just bliss.

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