This is the speech I gave 6/3/17 at Helena, MT’s March for Truth.
Good afternoon, everyone! I’m so proud to be here with all of you at the March for Truth. Thank you for being here and thank you for caring about the future of our country. This IS what democracy looks like. Please repeat after me: dizinformatsiya. The English translation – disinformation – of this Russian word does not appear until the 1980s but disinformatsiya is a tactic used by the KGB as early as 1920. The KGB is Russia’s highly secretive intelligence agency. What is dizinformatsiya?It is the deliberate placement of incorrect or misleading information to sway mass opinion. Disinformation is a weapon the Russian government has used for almost one hundred years. If you doubt the use of information as a literal weapon I turn your attention to Pizzagate: the false theory that the Democratic party was involved in a pedophilia ring. A man drove from NC to Washington DC to self-investigate a restaurant associated with Pizzagate and fired shots in said crowded restaurant. Pizzagate and other anti-Clinton fake news was specifically targeted at swing voters in the 2016 Presidential election. Google searches for Pizzagate were disproportionately higher in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s swing districts than districts in the those same states that went reliably to Trump. Pizzagate was spread to deliberately undermine the Democratic party, our democracy, and to target American voters with disinformation.
My name is Jaci Wilkinson and I am not a politician, journalist, or activist. I am a librarian. And you know when the librarians get riled up something is wrong. My colleagues and I, as information specialists, are deeply concerned with the trends of information consumption we see in this country. With the beautiful, tumultuous explosion of the digital age, we all need to fundamentally relearn how to engage with news, research, and each other. Anyone can publish anything online and it takes little effort to make a blog post or advertisement look as authoritative as a New York Times article. And although everyone has the right to their own opinion, they don’t have a right to their own facts.
Anytime you click on anything online someone makes money off of your click and collects that data about your online behavior. The methods used by Russian organizations to create disinformation are depressingly similar to how advertisers target you with ads and content based on your online behavior. But there is one important distinction: advertisers are trying to make money off of you but Russian organizations seek to undermine American democracy.
What is the key to a democracy? Informed, engaged citizens. Unfortunately, we cannot consider ourselves informed and engaged if we get our news only from social media or the same one or two sources. I implore you to seek out a broader variety of news and research on a topic when formulating an opinion. Find organizations that engage in independent investigative journalism instead of news sites that recycle stories and headlines. When you click an article on Twitter, ask yourself simple questions like: does the author provide their full name and contact information in this article? Are the photos or graphs recycled from another source and does it tell you where that source is? Is the story’s timeline transparent or unclear and choppy? Does the author only cite other news stories and social media or do they use primary sources like lawsuits, legislation, public records, and quotes from people directly involved? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves every single time we sit down to read the news or learn about a new topic. It is only when we learn how to question and engage with information online that we fulfill our duty as informed, engaged members of a democracy. Nothing about technology, online news, or social media is inherently bad. We need to unite against powerful, corrupt organizations that use disinformation to divide us and undermine our democracy.
I have one simple request: examine the role of social media and news consumption in your life. If I scroll through Facebook in the hours before bed I get anxious, angry, and overwhelmed. It is exactly this vulnerable psychological state that Russian, and other, influencers want us in because in this state we are not thinking clearly. Our pre-existing bias and easily-triggered outrage overwhelm reason and empathy. Moderate closely how and when you decide to read news or engage in social media. Make sure social media isn’t the only place you get your news. Get your news from a variety of sources that use research and transparent investigative methods. Come to these activities with a clear head and a goal to closely read and understand news and research. I know the battle cry of “moderate!” isn’t what you would get from a politician, activist, or journalist but, again, I’m a librarian. Librarians know that the world feels small and terrifying when information is pouring in at all times from all corners of the globe. So slow down. Vett your news and formulate opinions based on deep and wide reading. Aspire to be the type of informed, engaged citizen that makes our democracy shine.