October 5, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 41—False election narratives, politics and business and more

The first presidential debate has come and gone, early voting is underway in many states, and the 2020 election is top of mind for most Americans and at the center of many conversations online. But the spread of false narratives about the election through social media poses a serious threat to American democracy. The Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University is doing its part to help fight election manipulation and disinformation through BotSlayer, an application that scans social media in real time to detect evidence of automated Twitter accounts -- or "bots" – that push messages in a coordinated manner. Bots can rapidly post and repost messages, including those that amplify false narratives. The BotSlayer tool is free and includes a version set up to track election-related Twitter activity for those who don't have the time, resources or technological knowledge to set up their own tracking. Filippo Menczer, Distinguished Professor of Informatics and director of the Observatory on Social Media, says as social media are weaponized to spread disinformation, suppress voting and pollute the information ecosystem, he hopes BotSlayer and other tools will raise awareness among citizens and decrease their vulnerability to false information.

In other news, the relationship between private industry and governments is of increasing importance, both to scholars and the general public. Researchers from the IU are digging in to learn more about business-government connections. Sarah Bauerle Danzman, who teaches in the Hamilton Lugar School's Department of International Studies, says the prevailing belief, due in part to rising inequality and perceptions of widespread corruption, is that the global economy is a tool for the powerful to attain even more wealth and influence. Pro-business institutions are blamed for issues ranging from financial instability to the slow response to climate change, she says, but what we actually know about the relationships between public officials and registered businesses is limited. Bauerle Danzman and associate professor of Political Science William Winecoff have received a National Science Foundation grant to support collecting data on explicit links between politicians and businesses, across 360 million corporations in all countries of the world. The data will be used to explore important questions about the nature and consequences of business power, including the factors that make political-business connections more likely, the economic value of these connections and how they influence governance outcomes.

Finally, with pandemic fatigue setting in and fall weather tempting more people outside, many are starting to venture out more. That includes dining out. But an updated study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found adults testing positive with COVID-19 were almost twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant than those who tested negative. Brian Dixon, associate professor at the Fairbanks School of Public Health, says although the study does not state that dining out caused people to become infected, people still need to take precautions when choosing to dine out. First, know the policies and procedures the restaurants should be following and what they are doing to help minimize the risk of infection. Do not dine at restaurants that are overcrowded or that are not practicing social distancing, he says. Tables should be set apart and staff should be wearing masks. Although we cannot eat with a mask on, Dixon says you can keep your mask on until the food comes. Continue to practice good hygiene by washing your hands before you eat or by using hand sanitizer prior to eating. Also choose to sit outside whenever possible. Most importantly, decide if dining out is worth the risk. For some people, getting food to go or having it delivered is a safer choice. As eager as everyone is to get back to normal, Dixon cautions that until there is a vaccine, we need to continue to take precautions in everything we do.