After the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings, University of Washington Professor Kate Starbird began to notice a fringe element in social media, which claimed the Boston attacks were a “false-flag operation” by the U.S. government. With subsequent cases of mass violence, Starbird dug deeper to find a network of sites, bots, and social media accounts that fed fake conspiratorial information to one another.
By the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, conspiracies were so pervasive, that on some platforms, they dwarfed mainstream and traditional media. For example, the conspiracy-laden InfoWars.com now has roughly the same amount of page-views as the Chicago Tribune. According to Starbird, purveyors of fake news seek to discredit traditional media and foment chaos, but there's not always a single, nefarious actor behind it. She says a lot of fake information is generated organically, then shared by states, like Russia, and non-state actors, like White Nationalist groups. She joins Worldview to describe what she calls an “informational war.”