Misinformation or Political Dysfunction—Which Comes First?

Do you think misinformation is a problem of supply or demand? Over the past few years, politicians and pundits have coalesced around the narrative that “misinformation”—be it from Russian bots, random conspiracy theorists, your grandpa’s Facebook feed, or professional media—is both a growing problem and a root cause of current political dysfunction. Social media companies are routinely criticized for spreading misinformation and promoting people.

These ideas can be politically useful for both the right and left. Didn’t win an election? The misinformation was about your candidate. You can’t get support for a bill or ballot initiative. Misinformation. Why do people resist public health precautions? Do you have feelings that they should not? Promoting the wrong political views or imprudent analysis is a bad idea. Misinformation!

These narratives can be questioned for many reasons, including some we have already covered. It is not uncommon to find misinformation on the internet. But there’s evidence that…

IlyaSomin said that fake news demand is more important than supply. The Volokh Conspiracy2019

Thanks to these, the misinformation demand/supply argument is back in flames. Slow boredomMatthew Yglesias contributed this post. After questioning the belief that pre-internet was a golden era for better journalism and public awareness, Yglesias examines whether people believe false things either because they don’t know enough or because these false statements jive well with their emotions, prejudices, or ideas.

Normal people can give you a lot of information about their lives, work and hobbies, but not much about the FDA clinical trials process or about the moon landing. Who do you think knows the most about the moon landing, and how did they know? People who believe it is fake. These people don’t think it’s fake because they’re misinformed. Instead, they possess tons of facts about the moon because they’re cranks. If you can remember the number of the Kennedy administration executive order about reducing troop levels in Vietnam, then you’re probably a crank — that EO plays a big role in Kennedy-related conspiracy theories, so it’s conspiracy theorists who know all the details.

My view is that misinformation can cause excessive anxiety. This belief stems from the false assumption that factual information could resolve any political dispute. Arin Dube and David Neumark know far more about empirical evidence regarding minimum wage hikes than I or you. They disagree, however. This is a highly contested issue. The typical progressive about the subject is extremely ignorant relative to Neumark; the average conservative is similarly misinformed relative to Dube. And lots of political disputes have this quality — most people don’t know that much about it, but you can find super-informed people on both sides of the question. This is why the debate takes place live.

Yglesias’ post focuses on two main points. It isn’t “misinformation”, but a variety of information that’s misinterpreted as such. There are differences of opinion, values and ways of looking at the world. And it’s not people who find it online that make it false. It’s not a matter of supply, but demand.

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute agrees. Sanchez says, “It’s not usually that people have been tricked. Really, it’s because when any viewpoint can be validated online, people allow themselves to believe the beliefs they want.” tweeted. “I find most online misinformation efforts pessimistic. This is why I believe the War on Drugs won’t end. You don’t solve a demand problem by focusing on supply.

How does this all relate to political polarization The idea that “bad information —> dysfunctional polarization story is probably backwards,” suggests Yglesias.

According to this perspective, American polarization is what drives the need for false information and not vice versa.

The problem with this is not that we begin with polarization driving misinformation but vice versa. suggests Sanchez. We believe lies that are compatible with our identity because we are polarized.  However, the false beliefs we believe can also increase that polarization.

We are back at the notion of demand. A polarized people want to believe the worst about the other side, incentivizing politicians and pundits to play up rumors and provide the worst possible analyses, even when these border on—or simply are—misinformation. People who are polarized want to believe negative things about their “enemies” so they do.


T Visa forms are more likely to be used for labor trafficking than forms that allow for sex. “The U.S. “The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an wing of the Department of Homeland Security recently published a breakdown of 14 years of human trafficking visas,” Glenn Kessler notes. The Washington Post. The complete breakdown can be found here. T Visas are available to victims of sex and labor trafficking in the U.S.Trafficking is the reason. Kessler offers a summary of the data.

While the headline on the factsheet states “USCIS Received More than 25,000 T Visa Applications” and has approved more than 17,000 of them, it is important to look at the entire document. You will find that only 8,550 visa recipients were granted visas for both sex or labor trafficking over the span of 14 years. 8860 visas were granted to family members who are not related.

Many applications didn’t specify whether an applicant had been a victim to sex or labor trafficking. Of the cases where that information was collected (about 16 percent of primary applicants), “74 percent listed labor trafficking as the form of trafficking while 39 percent listed sex trafficking; only 8.6 percent — 120 people — reported they were sex-trafficked as a minor,” notes Kessler. Supplement B forms could have included both labor trafficking and sextrafficking. This is the reason why it adds up more than 100 percent.


Republican senators Push back against the no-fly listing for disruptive passengers.Sens. wrote that the TSA was created after 9/11 in order to “protect Americans against future horrible attacks” and not regulate passenger behavior. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming.In a Monday mail, Cynthia Lummis (Wyo. According to them, the list would make terrorists out of people who do not wear masks.

Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants CWA stated in a statement that “Homeland Security is Homeland Security.” A small group of individuals are attacking our flights and this must stop. … This is not about ‘masks,’ and the worst attacks have nothing to do with masks. These attacks can be prevented by you or crew members.

“​​Airlines maintain their own lists of passengers who are barred from traveling but don’t share information with other carriers,” notes The Washington Post. It is not clear why they didn’t just share the information themselves, rather than having the government establish a federal listing that would ban people from flying.

Delta CEO is pushing the no-flylist idea. He wrote to U.S. Attorney General on February 3, saying that he wants support for placing any individual convicted of onboard disruptions on a nationwide, comprehensive, and unruly passenger “no fly” list. This list would prohibit that person from flying on commercial airlines. The action will prevent further incidents from happening and act as a powerful symbol for the negative consequences of failing to follow crewmember instructions when flying commercially.

(Because we all know how well the existing no-fly list has worked out… )

The no-fly list isn’t something politicians are promoting as an answer to crisis. du jour,” C.J. Ciaramella wrote this last year as a response to the calls for an international no-fly zone to deal with rioters. The common theme of the Obama presidency was that those on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database should not have the right to own guns. This sentiment was repeated by both major-party presidential contenders in 2016. The use of the list to reduce civil liberties is a terrible idea, as it was back then. The no fly list is a disaster for civil liberties.


A woman accused of DNA collection in San Francisco was charged. Yesterday, we noticed that San Francisco officials were attempting to stop DNA from sexual assault investigations being used for the purpose of searching for suspects in criminal cases among victims. Chesa Boudin (the city’s district lawyer) said Monday that DNA taken from a woman in a domestic violence case had been used to convict the victim of a property crime years later. Boudin said yesterday that he dropped all charges against the woman.


• Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis officially declared Colorado’s emergency in July. He allowed local jurisdictions to implement mandates as they saw fit — his hometown of Boulder, for example, still has an indoor mask requirement — but rescinded nearly all COVID-related statewide executive orders.” He notes that his “approach appears working both in terms public health and for his own political fortunes.” New York magazine.

• Robert Califf has been confirmed as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

• “Access to the Capitol is just one part of the pandemic’s nationwide disruption of people’s interactions with the government,” writes Haley Byrd Wilt.

• Another racial epithet story that resulted in a teacher being put on leave.

• Small U.S. donors raised around half of a crowdfunding site’s donations to the Canadian trucker convoy protesting COVID-19 mandates.

• Has the idea that Canadians are “moderate, rule-following and just plain nice” been “a myth all along?”

• Biden’s antitrust crusade targets alcohol.