Investigations ignited by the insurrection that seemed to catch many of those who should have been paying attention off guard revealed widespread use of encrypted messaging apps among those who took part.
Members of groups that organize around various fringe ideologies used the technology and social media platforms to anonymously plan a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol. While these organizations espouse sometimes competing views of the world, the events of Jan. 6 were motivated by a common concern about a stolen election -- a conspiracy cooked up by their captain.
Documents filed with some of the criminal indictments filed against hundreds of people who breached the U.S. Capitol detail the anonymous planning that preceded the violent attack. ProPublica's examination of the documents shows how participants prepared for "WAR" in an apparent effort to stop congressional certification of electoral votes.
Technology, it seems, played a key role in the planning and preparation of the events on Jan. 6 in Washington. It also played an instrumental part in perpetuating the "big lie" that motivated everything that came before.
Technology didn't just provide the medium used to circulate false information that fueled the conspiracy theories regularly pedaled and consumed. A recent analysis of programmatic advertising data show the vehicles that transported those conspiracy theories across the internet were financed by "many of the world’s largest" companies that make or market some of the "most trusted brands."
Programmatic advertising uses algorithms to automate purchases and target consumers. It has been sold as a powerful marketing tool that is more focused and will generate greater response rates for advertisers.
NewsGuard, which roots out false information on internet sites, found that from Oct. 1, 2020, through mid-January that 1,668 brands paid for 8,776 unique ads on 160 sites that had been flagged by NewsGuard’s Election Misinformation Tracking Center for publishing falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Because of the way programmatic advertising works, "it is likely that, in many cases, these ad placements were inadvertent and unintentional."
NewsGuard's study noted the "the brands did not intend to fund hoaxes and conspiracy theories. But the data demonstrate how the various players involved in programmatic advertising, from ad exchanges to verification companies to agencies, are not providing brands with adequate tools to avoid funding misinformation that threatens democracy."
Some of the sites being funded by major corporations and household products used by U.S. consumers are known to be "funded by the Russian government." Some of those regularly "spread election-fraud myths and conspiracy theories."
Democracy cannot survive when lies and propaganda are disseminated as truth. Consumers should beware of those who pedal falsehoods, and corporations should be wary as well.
D.E. Smoot covers city/county government for the Phoenix.