Friday, April 13, the U.S. coordinated an airstrike with France and the United Kingdom in response to Bashar-al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. After the dust settled from the 105 US missiles launched towards chemical factories in Syria, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in the 24 hours following the airstrike, online Russian troll activity increased by 2000 percent.
There have been numerous speculations regarding how the Pentagon reached that number, but they confirmed they would provide more details in the days to come. Regardless, if the actual number is even in the same ballpark as 2000 percent, America will be threatened like never before.
America faces an inevitable problem, as nobody seems to know whom to trust for news anymore. Historically, American citizens have consumed their news information through traditional television outlets such as NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News. In recent years, the status quo has changed.
As the number of citizens who believe news organizations such as Fox News and CNN have become too partisan continues to increase, Americans have sought new alternatives to staying informed. One of the primary methods of news consumption people have turned to is the internet. According to a recent study, as of August 2017, 43 percent of American claimed they received their news online — only seven off from the 50 percent that still get news via television.
Technology is especially prevalent among college students. The youth is more technologically advanced than any generation in history and college students are constantly multitasking between their laptops and cell phones.
Many people don’t have time to sit down and watch the news every day, and our generation has been conditioned to check our phones for news updates. When the busyness of our schedules never seems to cease, staying informed via cell phones has become an incredibly convenient alternative to sitting down and watching the news.
Given that 67 percent of Americans receive at least some of their news online, Facebook and Twitter have become immensely popular news outlets. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lies were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth — implying it takes six times longer to find truth than misinformation.
President Donald Trump has not helped in this matter. In his crusade against CNN and the New York Times, he has discredited valuable and legitimate sources of news coverage that people have relied on for decades. Despite the hundreds of false claims he’s made since his candidacy, he insists that several news organizations do not report the truth. This has put the ordinary citizen in a difficult situation. Many people have bought into his rhetoric and no longer know whom to trust.
If people don’t trust news organizations but the news they find online and on social media is more likely to be false, America is at risk of tearing itself apart. When nobody knows whom to trust, we face an existential crisis as a nation.
By increasing the number of active trolls, solely in attempt to divide our citizens, Russia has once again attempted to meddle with our affairs and break any sense of unity from within. Sadly, it is likely this Pentagon report will be all but forgotten come the end of the week. An avalanche of information hits America every day and given the speculation as to how the Pentagon reached their number and the spread of fake news discrediting this report, it seems inevitable this story will be pushed to the side.
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America is in uncharted territory as a society. Never before has our country faced a technological attack like we’ve seen in the past few years and it is severely alarming that so many people brush information like this aside.
It’s our civic duty as a society to vote in elections and to do that it’s imperative we stay politically informed. Receiving factual information about current affairs is how we hold our elected officials accountable. If this trend of misinformation continues to spread, then people will feel as if there is no source of information they can trust and our adversaries will have succeeded in their quest. It’s essential we stay informed through reliable sources of information to ensure we don’t allow this to happen.
Mitch Rogers ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in economics.