Column: Here’s what we can do to combat disinformation

October 18, 2021 4:37 am

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

As the state representative of Michigan’s 41st House District, the health of my constituents is my No. 1 priority — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of too many Michigan residents.

At the same time, we are also living through what some researchers have called an “infodemic,” a surge of disinformation about vaccines, voting and reproductive freedom that threatens not only the health of ourselves and our neighbors, but the health of our democracy.

For decades, top-down movements have been sowing the seeds of disinformation, which has created a world where everyday Americans cannot trust facts presented to them. This environment divides us and those who fuel disinformation intend to confuse Americans and pit us against each other. Our democracy is stronger when we work together. Those hellbent on power and control know this well — and use disinformation to push us apart. When we are too busy fighting each other, we fail to notice when bad actors chip away at our freedoms, our rights and our collective power.

I know this firsthand. Last year, I watched as armed militants attacked the Michigan Capitol, my workplace, the halls of Michigan democracy, and threatened to harm our governor. Disinformation about COVID-19 fueled their violence. Sadly, this horrific day now appears to have been a prelude to the attempted insurrection we saw take place in January in the U.S. Capitol.

Many of the modern-day disinformation tactics were created and fine-tuned by the anti-choice movement. For decades, anti-choice extremists and their allies have spread health disinformation and falsehoods about the safety of abortion, protesting health centers that provide care to pregnant people, and even resorting to lethal violence.

Often, these same actors are also members of the anti-vaxxer movement, and use the same tactics—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to spread further lies that harm us. These movements not only spread lies about abortion, vaccines and democracy, they continue to adapt their playbook to achieve their ideological aims, going so far as to attack the halls of our democracy and lash out at the health care experts sharing information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

It is my job to fight for my constituents and fight for the democracy that gives us the freedom to vote; to decide if, when, and how to have a family; and protect our families from crises like COVID-19. I firmly believe that education and voting are the most crucial tools to protect and strengthen our democracy.

In partnerships with groups like NARAL Pro-Choice Michigan, Troy Indivisible and the National Vote at Home Institute, I have been able to bring training and resources to hundreds of Michiganders to help them identify and combat disinformation and encourage them to vote.

I’ve also worked with my colleagues in the Michigan House to ensure they have the tools to identify disinformation when it is written into the bills we vote on, including the 39 anti-voting, anti-democracy bills introduced this year. The United States has some of the lowest voter turnout rates compared to other democracies throughout the world. We cannot forget what voting can do. When white women, and later women of color, won the right to vote, we were able to move forward a legislative agenda that improved our economic opportunities, our freedom to decide when and if to have children and so much more.

Our democracy can continue to do good if we protect it. We can work toward an end to the maternal mortality crisis among Black women. We can pass legislation that protects and expands the freedom to vote, bringing more and more voices into our democracy. We can invest in the science that will protect us not only from this current pandemic but stop future ones from ever getting us back to the place we are now.

Today’s disinformation landscape proves that we all must do more to not only improve our ability to identify disinformation and protect others from it, but we must also better understand and expose the bad actors who intentionally push these lies to achieve their end goals of dividing us so they can snatch power away from the people. Only then can we save our country and our democracy.

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Padma Kuppa
Padma Kuppa

State Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy) is serving her second term representing Michigan’s 41st House District, which encompasses the cities of Troy and Clawson.