From anti-vaxxers to QAnon, we look at how misinformation spreads online – and the lives it disrupts.
Reporter Stan Alcorn digs into the origins of “Stop the Steal.” In 2016, it was the name of a right-wing activist group that spread the idea that the United States’ democratic institutions were rigged against Donald Trump. In 2020, it re-emerged as a hashtag attached to baseless Republican claims of voter fraud, gained huge audiences on social media and became a rallying cry among the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
Next, reporter and guest host Ike Sriskandarajah looks into one reason people aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine: conspiracy theories. The World Health Organization calls it “an infodemic,” where dangerous medical misinformation sows chaos and mistrust. So how do conspiracy theories spread? Sriskandarajah unravels the history of the lie that there is a tiny microchip in each vial of the COVID-19 vaccine.
We close the show with a conversation between a mother and son who are divided over conspiracy theories. Lucy Concepcion is one of roughly 75 million Americans who believe the results of the 2020 presidential election were illegitimate. She also believes in QAnon. Her son, BuzzFeed reporter Albert Samaha, believes in facts. Samaha describes what it’s like when someone you love believes in an elaborate series of lies, and we listen in as he and his mom discuss their complicated and loving relationship.
This episode was originally broadcast June 5, 2021.
Read: Behind the Tweet that Became the Rallying Cry for the Insurrection (Mother Jones)
Reporters: Ike Sriskandarajah, Stan Alcorn and Albert Samaha | Editors: Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis | Producer: Mia Warren | Lead producer: Ike Sriskandarajah | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Molly Mendoza | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda with help from Claire Mullen, Brett Simpson and Steven Rascón | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Ike Sriskandarajah
Special thanks to former Reveal reporter/producer Laura Starecheski; Isabel Cristo for her research on Stop the Steal; and the teams at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, Cornell Tech, Zignal Labs and First Draft News that helped analyze social media data around Stop the Steal.