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Episode 347
Jan 12, 2021

“Disinformation laundering” got us here

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Online conspiracy theories lead the mob to the Capitol last week, and Trump's allies in Congress helped them get there. Can we unring that bell?

Last week’s failed pro-Trump insurrection at the Capitol is really a story about disinformation.

Online disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories like QAnon are like “a giant lint ball,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and author of “How to Lose the Information War.” They pick up everything in their path: baseless claims of voter fraud, 5G, Hunter Biden, anti-vaccination fiction. And last Wednesday that huge ball rolled straight from President Donald Trump’s rally to the Capitol.

“We can’t leave our congressional representatives out of this, either,” Jankowicz said. “They’ve kind of laundered these narratives in the halls of Congress, given them legitimacy, rather than debunking and disavowing them.”

Jankowicz says researchers have been sounding the alarm, but no one in charge took seriously the scale of disinformation out there and its potential for real-world consequences. So what now? Can we unring that bell? We’ll talk about it, and why Jankowicz says there’s reason to be optimistic.

Later in the show, we’ll hear from a nurse practitioner who just got the COVID-19 vaccine, a teacher of budding podcasters and a listener reflecting on just how much history he’s lived through.

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The team

Molly Wood Host
Donna Tam Interim Senior Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Marissa Cabrera Producer
Bridget Bodnar Senior producer