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International Journalists' Network | 04.23.18

How journalists can avoid being manipulated by trolls seeking to spread disinformation

Joan Donovan

At the International Symposium on Online Journalism, Data & Society Media Manipulation/Platform Accountability Lead Joan Donovan explained tactics trolls use to game the media ecosystem.

 Capturing the narrative: Trolls try to ‘bait journalists into telling an easy story,’ often one that resonates with people who have racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and homophobic beliefs. By the time the story gets to the media, journalists don’t know the malicious source. Donovan cited the untrue rumor that Parkland High School shooter Nikolas Cruz was a member of a white-supremacist militia. Within hours of his being identified as the shooter, the rumor started on ‘the troll-hole known as 4chan,’ a website popular with the alt-right. From there, it spread into mainstream media before being debunked, she said.”

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