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Introducing the Oregon Disinformation Index
Find out where & how Oregonians stay plugged into the right-wing disinformation machine
UPDATE: The ODI has been updated significantly since this article first published. The methodology below is still accurate, but we removed the “medium” tier of analysis and renamed a few things.
When working to enact change, it’s critical to understand the forces you are up against. Sports teams study recordings of impending opponents. Startups study winners and losers in their target industry, vertical or market.
So when battling disinformation in Oregon, we should understand:
What & Who are the sources for this disinformation.
How & Where audiences are consuming this disinformation.
When trends change and new purveyors of disinformation begin to build influence.
And with some simple audience and market research tools, we can answer the first two questions and create a simple way to keep an eye on #3.
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What are the main sources of disinformation in Oregon?
First, we need to acknowledge that not all disinformation is created or served equally. Like any media source, there are diminishing degrees to the veracity of the content presented. To make this easier to understand, we split disinformation types into three buckets which attempt to match real world conditions:
1. Small Crazy
Definition: These are people in Oregon who visit/use the Fox News website.
Theory: Hard to believe, but Fox News represents the more sane (or, less crazy) option for feeding your brain right wing propaganda. Oregonians who visit the Fox News website might have some loose standards for information quality, but mostly seek confirmation of generalized themes in the right wing disinformation sphere.
2. Medium Crazy
Definition: These are people who follow & engage with Oregon’s homegrown rightwing nutjob Lars Larson on social media.
Theory: Larson sucks, no doubt. But he acts as a main launderer of conspiracy and disinformation campaigns to a small, but not insignificant, audience throughout Oregon (and some other states, it seems). To follow Larson on social media requires both a commitment to poorly understood, badly mangled news AND being an asshole about how stupid you are.
3. Large Crazy
Definition: These are people who use the word "patriot” in their social media profiles to describe themselves.
Theory: People who use the word “patriot” in their social bios are terminally online, with an insatiable appetite for the next conspiracy theory that will keep their fabricated world-view afloat for at least one more news cycle. They have no discernible standards for vetting information and share or amplify lies and propaganda without regard for veracity or quality.
These three buckets don’t exist in isolation.
They are connected in such a way that overflow from the small bucket feeds medium. And medium feeds into large. It’s not always a linear experience, either, but the Disinformation Machine is designed to keep each bucket as full as possible at all times.
That’s why it’s important to understand the trends within each bucket, and prevailing trends across the whole system. It’s helpful to get a snapshot of the Oregon disinformation network, but it’s truly actionable data if we can look several snapshots taken at regular intervals.
And that’s what the Oregon Disinformation Index aims to accomplish - a way to benchmark the right-wing disinformation ecosystem in Oregon and identify prevailing trends.
How the Oregon Disinformation Index (ODI) works
ODI is a simple, spreadsheet-based tool that will update 2 times per month. In addition to the small, medium & large buckets of crazy outlined above, the ODI uses three information channels to provide insight into how disinformation permeates the Oregon information-scape & where people find it.
1. Social Media
This data set shows who the folks in each of the three buckets of crazy follow and engage with on social media. As ubiquitous as social media is in our lives, you can make a solid assessment of media diet (and resulting ideological waste) for a given audience based on who they interact with, follow, and are influenced by on social media.
Podcasts are certainly popular, but not nearly as ubiquitous as social media for most folks. Still, the effort it takes to find & listen to a podcast is an indicator of intensity of interest in a particular show, host, interest or ideology. This information channel shows us what the more dedicated segment of an audience is pumping into their brains (via their ears).
3. YouTube Channels
If you’ve met anyone that’s been sucked thoroughly into right-wing fantasyland, I would bet money YouTube played a role in that process. By understanding what channels and personalities people consume on YouTube, you catch a glimpse into who audiences trust when it comes to learning about or researching any of the outlandish, sometimes dangerous, conspiracy theories that power Oregon’s disinformation machine.
OK, thanks. Now what do we do with it?
Welp, that’s a little open ended. Indices can be used for a ton of different things. And in many ways, the functional use of an index depends on what questions you’re asking. Since ODI is still a work-in-progress, let’s keep it simple when exploring potential uses.
- Use ODI to understand the message
Disinformation isn’t without purpose. While the substance of a particular disinformation campaign might be intellectually-stunted mind-diarrhea, there is a message buried within. For example - something like “voting by mail is fraudulent” or “higher education turns kids into liberals.” Picking through the trash and gibberish to locate that core message can help prepare for countering it if/when it seeps into wider discourse.
- Spot active disinformation pipelines with ODI
By parsing out the three main buckets of stupid in Oregon’s disinformation landscape, ODI allows for easier identification of pipelines that nudge folks from gulping down 30 minutes of Fox News each day to spending hours speed running through a dozen rabbit holes of insanity on YouTube until you end up watching an ex-school bus driver in Tennessee firing homemade rounds into the dirt pile behind his sister’s RV while reciting bible quotes.
In other words, we should be able to notice if there are established, or developing, pathways from less volatile disinformation to the more dangerous propaganda designed to incite violence.
- Disrupt the flow of disinformation
This one is tricky. Most of the disinformation flowing into Oregon comes from sources spread all over the nation and, in some cases, the world. So there’s almost no chance of mitigating the flow of propaganda.
But by spotting emerging trends in Oregon disinformation, it’s possible to blunt the effectiveness of any particular propaganda source.
For example: In our Small & Large crazy buckets of disinformation in Oregon, we see a person named Michael Coudrey gaining popularity fast on YouTube. - Among Fox News fans (small crazy), there’s been a 40% increase folks engaging with Coudrey. - Our group of self-described “patriots” (large crazy) are consuming Coudrey’s content with 30% growth. Coudrey operates under the guise of “successful businessman” and shills an ultra-capitalist lifestyle of hustle and greed. But he’s also an election conspiracy machine - having organized multiple “stop the steal” rallies, eventually earning a ban from Twitter for his conspiracy-peddling (the new owner has since reinstated his account…and he’s back on his same ol’ bullshit). Simply knowing this dingdong is a rising influence in the right-wing disinformation ecosystem is, like, 1/4 of the battle. And Coudrey is relying on his slick look, youth, and wealth to distract from his deliberately misleading ideas about election integrity, gender norms, Christian nationalism, etc. So attaching this unhinged disinformation to Coudrey’s more professional visage is likely a good way to shut this asshole down. When you put pressure on a rich person’s wealth by shining a light on their crappy behavior, it does wonders for changing their behavior.
Consider this ODI v1 - a work in progress
Let’s be honest, the ODI at this point is a color coded spreadsheet. It’s not complex. It’s not highly designed. I wouldn’t even consider it incredibly useful in its current iteration.
But the data is solid. And the trends are real. So we have a place to start.
I’d love to hear feedback & ideas on how to make this a better tool. But even surfacing this data and understanding the disinformation landscape in Oregon is a good start for version 1.