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TikTok Creators File Lawsuit Challenging Montana Ban

A group of TikTok creators in Montana have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new ban of the app, arguing that the law signed by Governor Greg Gianforte violates their First Amendment rights.

The ban signed by Gov. Gianforte on Wednesday is the first state-level ban of the social media platform. The complaint was filed just hours later in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Wednesday evening.

The lawsuit asserts that TikTok is comparable to other forms of media, which the state does not have the authority to keep Montanans from accessing and contributing to.

“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes.”

The group of creators stated that the new ban, set to take effect in January 2024, goes far beyond restrictions already in place in Montana and other states.

Other states have prohibited the use of TikTok on government devices, citing a potential threat to national security because of TikTok’s ties to China via its parent company ByteDance. The Montana ban extends to personal devices, making it illegal for TikTok to operate the app and for the Apple and Google app stores to offer it for download within state lines.

According to the law, TikTok could be fined $10,000 for each violation of the ban, plus another $10,000 for each day the infraction persists. Google and Apple may face the same fines.

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A spokesperson for Gov. Gianforte said in a statement that the Governor’s decision was motivated by wanting to protect “Montanans’ personal and private data being harvested by the Chinese Communist party.”

“While the Chinese Communist Party may try to hide their nefarious spying and collection of individuals’ personal, private, sensitive information under the banner of our First Amendment, the governor has an obligation to protect Montanans and their individual privacy right, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, from the Chinese Communist Party’s serious, grave threats.”

TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, has stated that the Chinese government has never asked TikTok for its data on users in the U.S. There has also been no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, released a statement saying that the office expects a legal challenge but is “fully prepared to defend the law.”

Emilee Cantrell, another spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, told The New York Times that the state would enforce the ban through “geo-fencing,” which is “already in use across the gaming industry.”

“A basic internet search will show you companies that provide geolocation compliance. If companies do not comply with the ban, the agency will investigate and hold offending entities accountable in accordance with the law.”

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In addition to citing the First Amendment, the lawsuit argues that Montana’s ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving TikTok users of other rights without due process.

It also asserts that the new law violates federal authority to set foreign policy and regulate interstate commerce, undermining the federal government’s powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union described the ban as “unconstitutional.” Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times that to justify a ban and have it hold up to legal scrutiny, the state would have to demonstrate its security concerns are real.

“Many have hypothesized that China might demand that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, turn over Americans’ data or use TikTok to push disinformation in some way, but neither Montana nor the U.S. government has pointed to any evidence that China is actually doing this. That’s a problem because speculative harms can’t justify a total ban on a communications platform, particularly one that’s used by hundreds of thousands of Montanans daily.”

TikTok told Reuters that the new measure “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok.”

“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

The five plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit include a former Marine sergeant, a rancher, a swimwear business, and an exercise influencer.

balloon

China Spy Balloons Discovered Under Biden, But This Is Not The First Time They’ve Appeared

According to a senior administration official working under President Joe Biden, the recent sighting of the spy balloon from China is not the first time one has appeared in the US in recent years. In fact, three suspected spy balloons from China appeared over the US during the Trump administration, but were not discovered until Biden took office. 

The official told CNN that the intelligence committee is currently preparing to give briefings to key Trump administration officials regarding the surveillance program from China. The Biden Administration believes that the program has been deployed in five continents within he past several years. 

The Pentagon initially stated that similar balloon sightings had been reported during Trump’s administration following the suspected Chinese spy balloon sighting over Montana last week. 

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“I don’t ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States,” said former Trump administration Defense Secretary Mark Esper to CNN.

A former national security adviser under Trump, John Bolton, reasserted Esper’s point stating that the former administration had knowledge of the surveillance program: “Did the Biden administration invent a time machine? What is the basis of this new detection?”

“The very fact, if it is a fact, that the Chinese tried this before, should have alerted us and should have caused us to take action before the balloon crossed into American sovereign territory.”

An official with the Biden Administration stated the previous incidents were not discovered until Trump had already left office, but no information has been given regarding when these supposed previous sightings happened or how. 

The Pentagon has reportedly briefed Congress regarding the precious Chinese balloon surveillance sightings during the Trump administration that, at the time, flew over Texas and Florida. 

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Representative Michael Waltz said in a statement to CNN that “currently, we understand there were incursions near Florida and Texas, but we don’t have clarity on what kind of systems were on these balloons or if these incursions occurred in territorial waters or overflew land.”

“Another Chinese spy balloon also transited the continental US briefly at the beginning of the Biden administration, the senior administration official said. But the balloon that was shot down by the US military on Saturday was unique in both the path it took, down from Alaska and Canada into the US, and the length of time it spent loitering over sensitive missile sites in Montana,” officials stated to CNN.

“Closely observing the balloon in flight has allowed us to better understand this Chinese program and further confirmed its mission was surveillance.”

Biden acknowledged that he ordered the Pentagon to shoot the balloon down last Wednesday when he was initially briefed of its presence over Montana. 

“Shooting it down over water also maximized the possibility of recovering the payload – the equipment carried by the balloon that the US says was being used for surveillance – intact and able to be examined further by the US intelligence community,” officials said.

tiktok

US House Of Representatives Banned From Using TikTok On Their Electronic Devices 

According to an internal notice sent to the staff of the House of Representatives – obtained by CNN from the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer – TikTok has been banned from any and all electronic devices used and owned by members of the House of Representatives and prospective staff.

The notice stated that the app must be uninstalled from any House mobile device if it’s already installed. This is due to the government’s view of TikTok being a “high risk to users due to a number of security risks.” 

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The US government has also been in talks to ban TikTok from all federal devices in the near future. This ban is a part of a piece of legislation included in the omnibus bill recently signed by President Joe Biden. More than a dozen states throughout the US have also already implemented their own restrictions and prohibitions on TikTok on government devices.

While TikTok hasn’t made any official comment regarding this recent ban on House devices, the company previously stated that the government’s moves to ban the app is a “political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.”

One of the biggest concerns coming from lawmakers regarding TikTok involves the social media app’s parent company, ByteDance. 

US policymakers are concerned about national security and the risk of the Chinese government pressuring either TikTok or its parent company into acquiring, using, and sharing personal information specifically from its US users. 

This information is thought to be potentially used for Chinese intelligence operations or the sharing of disinformation backed by China’s government. 

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While there hasn’t been any direct instances or attempts of these security breaches occurring, the platform did confirm last week that four employees were fired for accessing user data on TikTok from two journalists. 

The battle between the US government and TikTok has been ongoing since 2020, when the app truly began rising in popularity; partially due to the pandemic and quarantine restrictions that left citizens at home yearning for entertainment. 

Both the government and the platform have been working on negotiations to resolve any potential national security risks so that the app can continue to be used by US citizens. 

“The potential agreement under review covers key concerns around corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, and data security and access,” TikTok has stated

For now, the US government is moving forward with its plans to ban the social media platform from all government used/connected devices, with the potential for wider bans to be implemented in the future.

tiktok

US and TikTok Draft Deal To Resolve National Security Concerns

The Biden Administration and social media platform TikTok are drafting a deal to resolve concerns over the company’s data policies and its threat to U.S. national security. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

The resolution would allow ByteDance to keep ownership of the company but would make changes to its “data security and governance,” according to The New York Times. The two parties are still negotiating the terms of the deal, which aims to protect American data from the Chinese government.

The Justice Department is steering the negotiations with TikTok. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who was also a national security official in President Obama’s administration, believes that the current agreement terms are not rigorous enough to adequately protect national security. The Treasury Department is also involved in the negotiations and is skeptical that the deal will sufficiently protect American data. The Treasury Department plays a significant role in approving agreements that have the potential to incite national security vulnerabilities.

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The hesitancy from the government may drag out the final resolution for months. TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew insists that the company is not interested in sharing U.S. data with the Chinese government and considers itself a “separate US-based entity subject to U.S. laws.” Chew asserts that TikTok has “not provided U.S. user data to the CCP, nor would we if asked.”

“Employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok U.S. user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”

However, ByteDance still owns TikTok, and some ByteDance employees can still access TikTok user data. With midterms set for November, politicians turned their attention back to the security issue.

According to the deal, TikTok would store its American data on U.S. servers, likely run by the tech company Oracle, instead of its servers in Singapore and Virginia. Oracle would monitor TikTok algorithms for foreign government interference in user content recommendations. The worry is that the Chinese government will be able to use those recommendations to influence American users and politics. TikTok would also have to create a board of security experts to report to the U.S. government to oversee its actions.

Jake Williams, a former National Security Agency hacker, spoke about how Chinese government access to U.S. data creates a power imbalance between the two countries.

“Let’s assume for a second that U.S. intelligence has access to WeChat. They would have to fight hard for that access, and it would constantly be at risk of discovery and neutralization. China, on the other hand, doesn’t have to fight for access to TikTok; they have it by statutory authority.”

Williams continues, “the potential for Chinese data collection across the platform is a larger concern, especially when combined with other data already acquired by Chinese state actors.”

TikTok announced last week that it would ban political fundraising on its platform to prevent politicians from using it to grow their campaigns.

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In 2020, former President Donald Trump tried to force the sale of TikTok over similar national security concerns. TikTok initially agreed to sell a part of TikTok to Oracle, but the deal never came to fruition. The Biden Administration is taking a more nuanced approach to regulating the company’s access to American data.

Kian Vesteinsson, a research analyst for the nonprofit Freedom House, which advocates for political freedom, said that “there are definitely signs that Chinese influence efforts are likely to grow, linked to the Chinese government’s strategy more broadly of digital authoritarianism.”

“But it’s important for us to acknowledge that the U.S. government has its own shadowy national security surveillance authorities. And in recent years, U.S. government agencies have monitored social media accounts of people coordinating protests in the U.S. and done things like searched electronic devices throughout the country and at the border. These sorts of tactics undermine the idea that this is only a foreign threat.”

Tiktok on Phone

House Of Representatives Votes To Ban Federal Employees From Downloading TikTok

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to pass a proposal that bars all federal employees from downloading video-sharing social media app TikTok on government-issued devices. The proposal, which passed with a vote of 336-71, is a part of a much larger $741 billion defense policy bill.

In general, National security concerns about TikTok have risen within the past few weeks. The concerns stem from the fact that the app is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, and like with most social media apps, many are concerned that their personal information is falling into the wrong hands. TikTok has made countless statements refuting that any users personal information from the US is sent to where the apps headquarters are based in Beijing, and even claimed that for US users TikTok has their own CEO based in America. 

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“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” one spokesperson said.

The initial proposal was brought to the table by Republican Colorado Representative Ken Buck as a part of other “bipartisan amendments to be made to the National Defense Authorization Act.” The proposal would ban TikTok on government-issued devices for employees that extend into Congress as well as congressional staff. 

Despite TikTok’s claims that they haven’t given any user information to the Chinese government, and would refute if asked to do so, federal government workers in Washington aren’t so convinced, and have continued to push for the app, along with other Chinese run social media apps, to be banned in the US completely. 

Buck made a floor speech before the House voted on the proposal where he expressed his major concerns over the app especially in regards to government employees who have sensitive and classified information on their devices. 

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“TikTok is a serious national security threat…the data the company collects from US consumers could be used in a cyber attack against our republic.” 

The US is not alone in their security concerns over TikTok specifically either. India recently announced they would be banning the app along with 58 other apps that are developed by Chinese firms. The banning comes after similar concerns arose among the federal government in India, claiming that the apps “threatened the national security and defense of India.”

As previously mentioned this proposal is just one of many amendments that will be made to the National Defense Authorization Act. The next step will be the House passing their new version of the NDAA with the new amendments implemented. Once passed, the Senate will then decide whether or not to pass it along further later this week; it’s expected that both groups will approve of the new amendments. 

Beyond the NDAA, the Senate of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to consider new legislation that will be presented by Senators Rick Scott and Josh Hawley this Wednesday. This new legislation is similar to the proposal that was passed yesterday, barring federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices, but if passed by both federal groups, the prohibition could soon become law in the US. 

Even further, the Trump administration has been very public about their consideration of a national ban on TikTok and other Chinese-linked social media apps. However, only time will tell how easy that would actually be for the administration to accomplish. 

TikTok App on Phone

US Looking Into Banning Tik Tok And Other Social Media Apps From China

The United States is looking to potentially ban certain social media apps that come from China in an attempt to increase security access between the two countries. The main app that’s in question is Tik Tok, and according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the administration is taking this matter “very seriously.” 

Tik Tok alone has become one of the most popular social media apps on the internet currently. The free platform allows users to make videos that are up to a minute long and edit them with intricate filters, sound effects, music, graphics, and more. The feed algorithm on the app allows users timelines to be filled with content Tik Tok thinks you’ll like based on other posts you’ve liked and who you follow. 

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This specific algorithm is one of the reasons that Tik Tok has grown so much in popularity within the past year, as users can have any sort of interest and likely find a hashtag/page geared towards it. However, Pompeo made it clear in an interview with Fox News that Tik Tok was the administration’s number one priority in terms of platforms to potentially ban. 

Pompeo also went onto state that smartphone users should only download the app if “you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” however, a spokesperson working for Tik Tok in America was quick to refute these claims that the app gives personal information to the Chinese government. 

“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”‘

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The United States and China have been experiencing major tensions within the past few years in general. These recent remarks from Pompeo are likely a direct result of that as well. National security, trade, and technology was at the center of all tensions between the two nation’s governments, and once Covid-19 became an issue that stemmed from a market in China, the pressure began to boil over. 

Tik Tok is in fact owned by a Beijing-based startup company known as ByteDance, and has been often criticized by the US government for being a potential threat to national security due to its ties to China. Once again, the administration has been quoted multiple times alleging that the company “could be compelled to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” despite there being no evidence to prove that. 

Tik Tok has made statements in the past regarding security and claims that the company operates through data centers located outside of China, so none of the data is subject to Chinese law. Data for US users specifically is stored in the US with backups in Singapore, according to the company. This past May an executive spokesperson claimed that “the national security concerns are unfounded.”

India’s government has also claimed they would ban Tik Tok and other Chinese apps due to a posed “threat to sovereignty and integrity,” which also likely fueled the US to follow suit. With over 40 million American users, however, it’s likely the app won’t be going anywhere without a good fight from social media users across the country.

Terrorism Tape

American Citizen Named As One Of The Most Wanted Terrorists In The World

The name Jehad Serwan Mostafa may not be a name most Americans know – however, he has been named the “most wanted American terrorist in the world.”

In a recent statement, US Attorney Robert Brewer confirmed:

“Mostafa is believed to be the highest-ranking United States citizen fighting overseas for a terrorist organization. Al-Shabab’s reign of terror threatens U.S. national security, our international allies, and innocent civilians.”

Although Mostafa has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terror list for many years, an unsealed federal indictment has shown that he has recently been charged with extra crimes that relate to his alleged connections with Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab in East Africa.

After fleeing the United States in 2005, Mostafa was first indicted just five years later in 2010, however, this latest indictment also covers his previous charges and claims that during the period of March 2008 and around February 2017 Mostafa “conspired to provide material support, including himself as personnel to terrorists.”

The FBI has also stated that Mostafa has become a leader in Al-Shabab’s “explosives department,” undertaking vital positions throughout the soldier training and media sections of the group.

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It is thought Wisconsin-born Mostafa – also known as “Ahmed,” “Abu Anwar al-Muhajir,” “Ahmed Gurey,” and “Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir” – has been working on the improvement of the effectiveness of all IODs (improvised explosive devices) specifically created to attack US military bases and interests, according to government officials.

However sources have informed Fox News that Mostafa’s involvement is more sinister with an anonymous African intelligence official claiming:

“Currently, Jehad is in Somalia, and he is very close to the decision-making circles of Al-Shabab, especially their intelligence wing called ‘AMNIYAT’ and also an explosive brigade which is controlled by the powerful Al-Shabab leader, Mahad Warsame Qaley. Jehad is protected by Al-Shabab hardliners who are mainly connected to Al Qaeda. He directly gives advice to Al-Shabab’s leadership on issues related to strategies, international relations, smuggling explosive material and importation, media production, and its audience targeting.”

It is believed that 38 year old Mostafa has 16 children with his three wives, all of whom are receiving protection from Al-Shabab’s General Security, who are “in charge of overseas Counter-Intelligence and the presence of foreign fighters” in the group.

The source continued:

“The Middle Jubba region, which is under full control of Al-Shabab, is where intelligence agencies believe is his hideout. He is one of the most trusted foreign fighters within Al-Shabab, and gets more protection (than others) from the group.”

However the Mostafa that is around today is a surprise to those who knew him growing up, with many remembering him as sweet and subdued.

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Although born in Wisconsin, Mostafa was brought up in the Serra Mesa region of San Diego, California before heading to Mesa Community College. In 2005 he graduated with an economics degree from the University of California however it is alleged that he descended into the world of jihad only a few short months later at the age of 23. Heading to Yemen in 2005 it is thought he developed friendships with Muslims from other Western countries before heading to Somalia at the invitation of Al-Shabab.

While the terrorist group was establishing their hold in the war-torn country, Mostafa allegedly became affiliated within the group before they ordered future foreign fighters not to come due to the many arrests that were being carried out, with many trying to defeat the Somalian government finding themselves under arrest.

It is not just those that watched Mostafa grow up that have expressed their surprise at his radicalization. He often prayed at the Islamic Center of San Diego in Kearny Mesa and Imam Taha Hassane expressed his surprise at Mostafa’s extremist views in 2016:

“Jehad was often hanging around with the other young people. He used to play a lot of basketball outside. I was absolutely shocked to see his picture on the news connected to terrorism.”

Although his family have never responded to requests for comments – his father Halim Mostafa Gabori passed away from a heart issue in 2018 while his mother Sumaiyah is a school teacher, and he has an older brother who works as a software engineer – a family friend reported that the family were “deeply disappointed” and the family rarely mentions him any more.

One of the most deadly organizations in the world, Al-Shabab – Arabic for “The Youth” – became an insurgent faction based on their harsh interpretation of Islam in the late 1990s although they did not join Al Qaeda until 2012. The group peaked between 2009 and 2011 when they were in control of the majority of southern and central Somalia and although they were removed from the capital in 2011 they moved towards a “more covert form of guerrilla warfare.”

Will Hartley, a terrorism and security consultant, observes that the “concern that Al-Shabab was re-establishing itself prompted a renewed US focus on the group in the latter years of the Obama administration, and that has continued under Trump.”

Disinformation

Disinformation Campaigns On the Rise Around the World

The United States is currently in the midst of an intragovernmental conflict that speaks to the core of questions about the proliferation of truth and facts in a democracy and about how disinformation can spread to corrupt the ordinary political processes that ensure fair and proper representation of citizens by government. The Trump administration, infamous for its strategy of communicating falsehoods and outright lies in an unyielding effort to smear any and all political opposition, nevertheless enjoys seemingly-unshakable support from a core constituency of voters who, while not representing the majority of American voices, enable largely unchecked majority rule in the federal government. The stability of this coalition speaks to the efficacy of disinformation campaigns, promulgated by the White House and repeated unquestioned by propaganda outlets including Fox News. The success of such campaigns affecting the US has resulted in similar strategies being tried in other governments, as the New York Times reports that at least 70 countries have had disinformation campaigns.

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The article references a report conducted by the Computational Propaganda Research Project at the University of Oxford, which studied governments that spread disinformation “to discredit political opponents, bury opposing views and interfere in foreign affairs.” According to the report, the number of governments employing such tactics has more than doubled in the past two years, and manipulation of social media is a key factor in their expansion. Despite efforts from companies like Facebook, Twitter, and others to combat disinformation, colloquially called “fake news,” social media remains the primary avenue by which malicious actors spread deliberately harmful information, owing to the lack of journalistic standards inherent to the way information spreads on the medium. Governments use disinformation on social media to interfere not only in their own elections, but in the elections of other countries, as infamously exemplified by the Russian government’s successful effort to leverage their Internet Research Agency to improve Trump’s odds of being elected.

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One notably prominent actor in the disinformation space is China, which has long been known to proliferate political lies and has expanded its efforts in the wake of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, leveraging technology in innovative and uniquely destructive ways. As time has progressed, disinformation campaigns have become more formalized and professional operations, as governments have recruited university students and others to create and spread disinformation on fake social media accounts. Generally, disinformation campaigns don’t produce news articles, which are easy to identify as disreputable, but instead create content like memes and videos, which are spread anonymously and for free and are difficult for social media platforms to spot. Given the fact that an increasing number of people get their information about politics from social media instead of traditional news organizations, the proliferation of disinformation via memes is particularly worrying.

The threat of disinformation is real, but it can be reduced by the development of a well-informed and thoughtful citizen population

Because of the awesome power of the United States on the world stage and growing concerns about the stability of its democracy, of particular concern is the integrity of the 2020 election. Given the success of their disinformation campaign in 2016 and the relative lack of consequences faced for having conducted it, Russia is likely to attempt to meddle in the election again, supporting the incumbent president over the democratic nominee. The incumbent party has additional advantages in the form of gerrymandered district maps, which have prevailed despite ongoing legal challenges, the gradual weakening of the Voting Rights Act, and the electoral college, which has allowed Republican candidates to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote on multiple occasions. And the incumbent party, having benefited from Russia’s interference, has already demonstrated a willingness to corrupt the country’s system of free and fair elections, most recently by actively soliciting the help of a foreign government to smear a political rival.

Given the threat of disinformation, it falls upon citizens to become extra vigilant in defending themselves against propaganda and false beliefs. The best way to do so is to maintain a skeptical yet inquisitive attitude concerning the validity of political information, and to develop a sense of news literacy to serve as a guide in navigating questionable and murky developments. To be well-informed, it is essential to understand why certain media outlets are trustworthy and why others aren’t, which comes from an understanding of how news outlets go about finding sources and verifying their reports, and to have the ability to separate facts from opinions and recognize bias when it’s present not only in the news, but in oneself. The threat of disinformation is real, but it can be reduced by the development of a well-informed and thoughtful citizen population, which starts at the individual level.