This website is best viewed in a browser that supports web standards.

Skip to content or, if you would rather, Skip to navigation.


News Brief

Jan. 22, 2024 |  By: Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

Democracy challenged by social media 'networked incitement'


By Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

The use of social media to organize the Jan. 6 insurrection marked a turning point in American political protest, according to a leading media and disinformation scholar.

The "networked incitement" fueled false claims of a stolen election while rioters coordinated in real time across multiple online platforms.

Joan Donovan, assistant professor of journalism and emerging media studies at Boston University, said the "MAGA Republican" movement became a weaponized volunteer army directed by tweets from former President Donald Trump.

"The problem here was that social media was weaponized against the voting public to plant so many of these egregious stories," Donovan explained.

Three dozen Missourians have been charged with crimes in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and 19 have been sentenced so far. For the upcoming election, Trump has repeatedly asked his supporters to monitor polling stations and "guard the vote."

Donovan noted the social media infrastructure to coordinate those efforts is already being set up online.

She pointed out the charging and sentencing documents of more than 400 Jan. 6 defendants revealed the majority wanted to support Trump and prevent what he called a "rigged election."

Donovan is convinced without greater regulation and penalties for the misuse of social media, popular figures will use disinformation to incite political violence.

"These people have learned that the next attempt is going to be much more strategic, to prevent election officials from counting votes and certifying those votes," Donovan emphasized.

Donovan argued it will take what she calls a "whole of society" approach to counter the dangers of disinformation online. She added government officials and media outlets can use social media to educate the public about the democratic process. And politicians can ensure transparency of donations to political action committees, which often create media disinformation campaigns.