Thomas Kent (Adjunct Associate Professor, International & Public Affairs) writes on the critical early hours for disinformation response (Center for European Policy Analsysis, March 31, 2021).
Reports by responsible media saying simply that “authorities are investigating” are thin gruel to people who expect their news needs to be instantly gratified. They will relentlessly trawl social networks and search engines, eagerly consuming whatever speculation is out there. And as many academics have found, the first claims they encounter may lodge solidly in their minds, resisting even the most authoritative explanations that later come to light.
Disinformation artists relish moments like these. They have a ready store of pet disinformation themes that they can instantly adapt to whatever has just happened. In an information vacuum, almost any event can be twisted to cast doubt on Americans, George Soros, the European Union, or some other favorite bugbear. And if the narratives they launch prove wrong? The outlets that disinformation actors often use to spread their content — suddenly-created news brands and internet sock puppets — can easily be replaced. There is no long-term integrity to protect.