Friday, May 27, 2022

How an internet lie about the Capitol invasion turned into an instant conspiracy theory

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Just as well-known and easily identifiable far-right figures broadcast live invading the Capitol in Washington, DC, a lie began to spread across the internet supporting Trump: What if the mob was in fact an activist group. antifa trying to convince supporters of the president looking bad? The rumor was false and debunked on several occasions, including by the words and actions of the MAGA personalities who led the charge in front of a live audience.

The lie had already been sown, since false claims about antifa are dotted with the history of far right-line spaces. A typical conspiracy theory carries a baseless warning that buses laden with protesters are being dispatched to cause trouble in small towns. President Trump himself has repeatedly promoted such claims, helping to turn anti-fascist protesters into go-to villains for his supporters.

This fueled the latest rumor, false if it was. It quickly made its way through social media, news reporting, and online media – and was amplified and supported by some Republican politicians.

According to data from media intelligence firm Zignal Labs, at least 411,099 mentions of the lie appeared online in less than 24 hours. The rumor transformed and gained traction as more and more people contributed to subplots, and it broke through niche platforms and Republican congressman blamed Antifa for insurgency.

How did it happen

As Congressional certification of electoral votes took place on Wednesday, a Trump rally outside Capitol Hill quickly turned into chaos. At around 2:30 p.m. EST, protesters crossed police lines and stormed the building.

At around 3:30 p.m. Lin Wood, a well-known right-wing conspiracy theorist, posted on Speak, the social network popular with some Trump supporters. He claimed the crowd were antifa supporters and that two separate images – one of a man from the Capitol crowd and the other supposedly from “phillyantifa.org” – showed the same person. The message received 5.6 million views and over 56,000 upvotes. With this the seed was planted.

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