Liberal Reporters Whine GOP Not Fretting ‘Disinformation’ in 2024

News & Politics

During Tuesday’s CNN This Morning, Kasie Hunt prompted Politico journalist Sasha Issenberg’s new book about disinformation and to share his opinion about how Republicans were supposedly idiots for not joining Democrats in their mental breakdown over some degenerate spreading AI disinformation on the internet. He also tried to reassure viewers that the White House and Biden campaign were focusing their efforts on countering the disinformation about President Biden’s age among people they thought could help him win in November.

Issenberg was invited on the show to talk about his new book, The Lie Detectives, which explores the political implications of AI-generated disinformation spreading on the internet. “[A.I.] has forced political professionals and people running campaigns — the party committees — to totally revisit a lot of their assumptions about when and how you respond to attacks,” he fretted.

Their conversation began discussing the current real-life situation in which people had received fake phone calls that purported to be from Biden and circulating AI photos of Donald Trump posing with black supporters on the internet.

In a somewhat abrupt transition, Hunt asked Issenberg how Republicans and Democrats differed in their responses to this type of AI-created disinformation. Instead of explaining more of his research on how such images affect voting and campaigning strategy, he dove into a lengthy spiel about how Republicans “dispute the whole idea that disinformation is a meaningful category.”

He then insinuated that the only reason Republicans were averse to making a big deal out of AI disinformation was because they think it’s merely “a concept the Democrats created so that they could partner with government and academia to pressure tech companies to silence conservative voices.” Hunt acted baffled that Republicans would ignore such a big issue, stammering “if somebody were to make fah—, uh, fake, uh robo-call of Donald Trump, I mean, they, they just don’t see that as a problem?”

Issenberg whined that Republicans understood “the term disinformation” to be “a sort of tool that Democrats use, you know to silence conservatives, and also sort of as an excuse post-2016 to, to evade sort of blame for running bad elections…Republicans are very interested in investigating the way that tech companies have enforced their content moderation policies.”

With 2024 top of mind, Hunt also wanted to know what the Biden campaign was doing to combat the “misinformation” they were facing. According to Issenberg, they were focusing on “market-moving disinformation” like fears of Biden’s age:

One thing that they found, you know, was that the stuff related to his age was a real electoral problem because, not because voters were worried about Biden’s physical fitness, but because they saw he was like a fundamentally weak political figure, and that this was a way of getting into that. (…) And so, what they are looking at is to identify the underlying anxieties, and not end up in a position where they are chasing a piece of content every day when a new deep fake pops up or a new conspiracy theory. But understanding what the underlying anxiety of voters is that those disinformation narratives are playing to and address the anxiety without, without sort of playing whack-a-mole with the content.

The full transcript can be read here. 

CNN This Morning

3/12/2024

5:38:55-5:41:24

KASIE HUNT: The explosion of artificial intelligence in the new online landscape has made it easier than ever to deceive voters, creating, really, immense new challenges for campaigns and for all of us trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not as we barrel towards the 2024 general election.

Author and journalist Sasha Issenberg explores all of this in his new book, The Lie Detectives: In Search of a Playbook for Winning Elections in the Disinformation Age. And Sasha joins me now.

Sasha, this book could not be more timely. Yesterday’s cover of USA Today had this as the lead, so this is something that’s really broken through with the general populous.

But how should we be thinking about these challenges? I mean, if you’re the average voter, what do you need to be looking for? And how are campaigns trying to talk to people who are getting — honestly, being flooded with this stuff, probably quickly, probably on their phones, probably with not a lot of tools to figure out what’s true and what’s not?

SASHA ISSENBERG: Yeah. Well, generally, what’s fascinating to me about this topic is the asymmetry that it creates. So if those things had been 20 years ago on a TV ad or on the front page of the newspaper, political professionals have a way of assessing who saw this? What do we think the impact is?

The stuff that’s moving around digitally is often very difficult to measure and very difficult to anticipate its impact. And so, it has forced political professionals and people running campaigns — the party committees — to totally revisit a lot of their assumptions about when and how you respond to attacks.

HUNT: So is there a difference between Republicans and Democrats in how they view this kind of material?

ISSENBERG: Yeah. I mean, I think Republicans these days often dispute the whole idea that disinformation is a meaningful category. I think if you talk to many Republicans – and we see this in the weaponization of government hearings that Jim Jordan is running. The state attorney generals who are suing tech companies over this. What you hear a lot from Republicans is disinformation is something that — a concept the Democrats created so that they could partner with government and academia to pressure tech companies to silence conservative voices.

And so, you have a lot of Republican political operatives who are very interested in tracking what people are saying online but they don’t really buy the idea that this is a meaningful category.

HUNT: How did, but how do, how do they square that when I mean, if somebody were to make fah—, uh, fake, uh robo-call of Donald Trump, I mean, they, they just don’t see that as a problem?

ISSENBERG: They think that the term disinformation is, is a sort of tool that Democrats use, you know to silence conservatives, and also sort of as an excuse post-2016 to, to evade sort of blame for running bad elections.

I think that’s what Democrats, I mean, it’s sort of what Democrats probably say an inverse about Republicans claiming election fraud, right? This is a thing that you use as a crutch to claim that you were sort of unfairly attacked.

I think what we are seeing now is that Republicans are very interested in investigating the way that tech companies have enforced their content moderation policies. And it has made the tech companies far more reticent to be enforcing even rules that they themselves have adopted—

HUNT: To moderate anything at all. Fair.

For Democrats if you’re President Biden’s campaign, what are you doing like right now to combat, what, what misinformation are you paying attention to? What are you ignoring? You obviously can’t deal with all of it. I mean, it’s like we’re inundated. What is their sort of strategy?

ISSENBERG:  Yeah, their theory is to focus on what they call market moving disinformation. So, lots of people are lying on the internet all the time, lots of people are lying about Joe Biden all the time. Much of it is happening in corners of the internet with people who support Donald Trump, are not persuadable voters.

Um, they—In 2020, I go into a lot of detail about this research project that they did to identify, not just which disinformation narratives have the biggest reach, but which were most likely to affect the opinions of the small share of voters who are actually persuadable. One thing that they found, you know, was that the stuff related to his age was a real electoral problem because, not because voters were worried about Biden’s physical fitness, but because they saw he was like a fundamentally weak political figure, and that this was a way of getting into that.

At the same time, they didn’t see the Hunter Biden stuff as a problem, even though a lot of people knew about it, voters did not see Biden as being, sort of, driven by personal financial interests.

And so, what they are looking at is to identify the underlying anxieties, and not end up in a position where they are chasing a piece of content every day when a new deep fake pops up or a new conspiracy theory. But understanding what the underlying anxiety of voters is that those disinformation narratives are playing to and address the anxiety without, without sort of playing whack-a-mole with the content.

HUNT: Yeah, really interesting. All right.

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