Disinformation-spewing online bots and trolls from halfway around the world are continuing to shape local and national debates by spreading lies online on a massive scale. In 2019, Russia used Facebook to intervene in the internal politics of eight African nations.
Russia has a long history of using disinformation campaigns to undermine opponents – even hoodwinking CBS News anchor Dan Rather back in 1987 into saying that U.S. biological warfare experiments sparked the AIDS epidemic.
One group of researchers identified Russian interference in 27 elections around the world, from 1991 to 2017. It interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, reaching more than 126 million Americans on Facebook alone. Russia is almost certainly already doing so again in 2020.
But Russia is not alone: From the end of World War II to the year 2000, scholars have documented 116 attempts to influence elections – 80 of them by the United States.
Nations around the world, including the United States, have to decide how to react. There is no shortage of experimentation, with new laws and codes of conduct, and even efforts to cut off internet access entirely – and that was before misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.