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tv   This Is Life With Lisa Ling  CNN  October 17, 2021 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT

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>> the one man she really wanted to adore her did not. to the outside world, it's still a fairy tale. but the reality is something completely different. just for diana to look camilla in the eye is a huge show of power. >> she wanted the life she had hoped for. she kept fighting for it. . >> i'm in my bedroom on january 6th watching thousands of people at the united states capitol on the day that the presidential election was supposed to be certified. > . like most of us, last winter, i watched live as people
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stormed the united states capitol, fueled by the baseless claims the election was stolen. >> make no mistake this election was stolen from you, from me. >> this is the consequence of conspiracy theories running amuck. accusations of lies, treason and even pedophilia flew from all directions. s it begs the question, how did we end up here? americans have always been phosphated with alternate versions of the truth. >> the clues are all there that it had the potential to get as huge as it's become. >> in the last decade,
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conspiracy thinking has gone main stream. it may not be entirely our fault. >> if are you a democrat, i'm a republican, the aisle is incentivized to push us further apart. >> tonight we look at a system designed to stoke paranoia and stoke off our fears. >> it's psychological warfare with us as children. >> to meet someone who dove head first. >> i couldn't stop thinking about it and it broke me. >> and someone who is still very much in it. >> it's coming. >> what do you think is comeing? . >> we like to think we're immune from misinformation, but the truth is far more complicated and these days harder than ever to discern .
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last year our world changed overnight. stores emptied. stadiums went silent. and all of us learned the meaning of social distance. at the same time that we isolated from each other -- >> we have the biggest one-debt ceiling so far. >> reporter: the volume of our news feed went to full plast. >> we are in debt. >> americans are dying. >> the coronavirus. >> reporter: we tried our best to keep up appearances, then weeks and months went down under lockdown, it got harder and harder. >> we are five month into this world wide pandemic. >> reporter: people who looked leak they had it together were silently coming apart. >> i'm not playing a game.
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>> at the height of the pandemic, a video started spreading on twitter showing a woman knocking over a display of masks in a target store. she live streamed the entire event. >> yay! whew! >> reporter: the video became a viral sensation and garnered the meme target caring. for the person that posted it, it was the end of a rapid downward spiral. >> at the beginning of the pandemic, i was just spinning trying to learn as much as i possibly could so i could be informed not only to make decisions for my health and my family's health, but to advise clients. >> she is well versed in appearances. she runs a small public relations firm catering to luxury and lifestyle. but her business was upended when the pandemic devastated arizona's hospitality industry. how did the pandemic start to
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affect you personally? >> i didn't know what to do with myself. it was a dead zone of time where i just had nothing to do other than panic. >> she had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prone to extreme anxiety. like many of us, she was faced with an nchths overload. >> my issue with dr. fauci right out the gate was initially he said masks were unnecessary. then he dialed it back and said masks are necessary. i think that the juxtaposition of information that was so polar opposite was really what caused me to crack. i began to question what was happening. >> reporter: as she dug deeper into the internet trying to make sense of it all, she discovered a new theory. the pandemic was a coverup for something far worse. warp some of the things
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specifically that you saw that really affected you after going down that rabbit hole? >> i saw clips of videos that were floating around on twitter. it was people in positions of power abusing children with proof, that's their voice that's their house. i had never seen anything leak that. >> reporter: she had stumbled into america's fastest-growing conspiracy theory qanon. >> the information seemed very real and very questicredible an horrifying. >> reporter: did you ever think that all could been contrived? >> i considered that. but i was deeply affected by the save the children messaging and the claims about widespread pedophilia. i just wanted to see justice and the truth come forward and i just couldn't let it go. >> reporter: by now, most of us have heard of the qanon
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conspiracy theory, a noble trafficking ring, thousands of pedophiles and one man who will vanquish this evil, now former president donald trump. it sound ridiculous, but some studying qanon say there are reasons why so many people are drawn to it. we all have a desire to fight for what is right and to feel like we are a part of something. something big and heroic. >> our leaders are using the blood of children for everything. >> reporter: they desire for a connection, for people who might have been feeling isolated or they had a ton of purpose. this is incredibly productive. >> i am speaking with anna merlin, an investigative journalist who tracked how conspiracy movements like this one have listen to the surface. what is qanon and where did it come from? >> qanon is the conspiracy that
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took hold early on in donald trump's presidency. it is the idea he is secretly fighting a cabal and evil-doers and we are told what he is doing through mysterious clues dropped by someone calling themselves q who implies they are a high level operative in the trump administration. >> how does that become something that people have found themselves wanting to partake in? >> qanon has become a massive online role-playing game and it's very addictive. because it gives people a sense of participating in something really big. like if you put these clues together correctly, you will vanquish and unthinkable evil. >> reporter: anna tells me qanon is more than memes and viral clips. it's a part of the older, darker story. >> the idea of a secret group of sexually abusive evildoers is a
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mid-evil conspiracy theory. it is an antisemitic idea that jews were meeting last-minute at night to slaughter christian children and use their blood in rituals. it is spread beyond that. you see almosts in qanon that claims evildoers are meeting in secret to abuse children. >> reporter: the ancient lie has been weaponized again and again throughout global history but still didn't deter melissa who, herself, was raised jewish around descended from holocaust survivors. >> even though there is a lot of anti-semitism that goes along with what qanon is about. that still didn't dissuade you?
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>> i picked and choosed what i ascribed to and the rest of it i was like, i don't like that, i'm going to ignore that and the more detached from reality i got, the more of a risk that it had in my relationship with my husband. finally, things got so heated here, that he was like, either you cut this qanon out or we're done. so i said, fine, i'll go stay in a hotel. i was filled with rage. i was thinking about everything that i had learned about qanon. it's like, they're doing this to us. and when i saw the masks, i just lost it. >> i can't do it because i'm a -- woman. i don't have the [ bleep ]. >> the target video was one posted by melissa following qanon. in them she talked about connections to q and loyaltys to donald trump and used a torrent of racist language. overnight, she lost clients,
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friends and nearly her marriage after her hushed filed for div divorce. >> when you look at that video, what do you think about? >> never in a million years would i think that i would have been the type of person to join a cult. but that's exactly what i did. it's very easy to get swept up. >> based on a poll conducted in 2021, an estimated 15% of the american public still believed a secret group of pedophiles were controlling the government. that's millions of people. so i'm looking at this reddit page called qanon casualties, stories of people who have gone down this qanon rabbit home, here's one that says i lost my mom to this qanon bull -- she talked about celebrities killing
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small children and drinking their blood. the saddest thing about all of this is how grounded in fear people are. we're all afraid. we are all unsure of what's going to happen tomorrow. where sit going to end? i have no idea. that's also really scary. qano is a digital age phenomenon. it turns out the paranoia that fuels q is as american as apple pie. >> >
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. it was like haveing is a rockstar join the family. >> increasingly, her private
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success was making their relationship more difficult. it's easy to think of conspiracy theories as something new. a byproduct of the digital age, the journalist anna merlin points out, this has happened over and over again in america? conspiracy theories tend to come to prominence more during times of social upheave am, social change, confusion of major world events, all of those things can lead to an environment where people's imaginations can run wild, in the mid-20th century, most conspiracy theories spread by mouth. today it was a rapid social change. while an escalating cold fear was communism and they upended white supremacy, a group sought
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to capitalize on the resistance to change. >> the john berks society were engaged if spreading vir leapt conspiracy theories. they openly accused their political opponents of being communist that the government was riddled with secret communists working to sort of undermine the workings of the government and this was an existential threat. >> the civil rights movement as we know it today is simply a part of a world wide movement organized and directed by communists to enslave all mankind. >> it's something that we have seen subsequently that people who don't believe what you believe ideologically are actually in danger to the united states and that idea has occurred quite a lot. >> these ideas can also take root when people have lost trust in their leaders. >> conspiracy theorists don't have to do very much work to make people believe the government is capable of the
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atrocities, because they have perpetrated them in the past. >> whether they were old or young, we can probably remember a time in our lives when something we thought was true was exposed as a lie. >> peace will be necessary for final success. we know this because our own security is at stake. >> let me just say this, i have never ob stlukted justice. >> we did not, repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages. >> the erosion of trust took its toll. by the end of the 20th century, studies showed that over 50% of americans believed in at least one conspiracy theory. >> the first time i noticed it, conspiracy culture was really popular in america is when i was going to go on shows. there was probably more people crowded around the conspiracy table than the ar-15 table.
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the clues were all there, actually, that it had the potential to get as huge as it's become. >> john ronson is no stranger to bizarre stories. an author and film-maker, he's covered secret military programs, psychopaths and brain control. extremism led him to the world of extremist thinking. >> i thought they would have things in common. they all believed there was a shadowy cabal in the world. it's a very clear hoax that, of course, flunlsed the nazis nuanced white supremacists today. >> john wanted to learn more how these things were spreading in fringe groups on the right and discovered a fan base determined to expose the threat of a new
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world order. the time is ours, against the new world order and the communists and bankers that run the shows. >> one obscure public tv show from texas amassed mail order videos. his name was alex jones. >> and now they run the world, they plan to sap this country. are you financial to let them? what was your relationship with alex jones? >> i first met alex jones when he was completely unknown in a child's bredroom if his house. >> no longer is the new world order some foggy apparition over the next hymn, the talk of extremists. >> reporter: ronson discovered he and jones shared a common fascination. there actually were powerful groups meeting in secret, vips who gathered on secret outings in remote locations. >> the bohemian growth, in
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california people are rooum rumored to attend in a human effigy being burned outside an owl. >> the bo hem yap was a secretive men's retreat, it included power brokers, celebrities and even former presidents. for 150 years, the gatherings had been a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists alleging this is where plots were hatched to build a few world order. >> when i heard that, i thought i must try and sneak if and find out if this is true. >> we will get the information out to people. >> i remember that guy alex jones, i called him up, i said, thinking of going to a group, you want to come? do not do anything stupid this weekend. >> i'm completely non-violent going out there and trying to get the information. that's what i'm trying to do. >> what did you see when you got there? >> oh, well, the whole thing was
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amazing. we watched this ceremony, alex managed to film with a camera in his bag. >> let all witnesses be refer rent before him. >> reporter: the footage was shaky and dark and captured what was clear lay hit warm. >> they peck up the human effigy, throw it into the fire. >> bring fire. >> then this big firing display. >> reporter: it turned out what they witnessed was a bohemian club's annual sucker kickoff call the cremation of care. creepy looking, yes, but more of a summer play put on by rich men. it was a weird event, probably not particularly nefarious? >> it was art, but not ne far yuchlts but alex brought out a video, like he was witnessed an
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actual human sacrifice. >> if we can disecond this for a moment, what you observed was something that actually happened. this video is an example of how something can be spun into something that riles a lot of people up and instills fear. >> what we actually saw was extraordinary in that high society people would do this on summer vacations, yet, alex wants to turn it into something crazier, an actual human sacrifice. >> would you say that was one of the events that gained alex jones some legitimacy in certain circles? >> yes. bohemian grove was alex jones' first hit. then it sent him flying. >> that is the world trade center and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of
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the towers. 9/11 was incredibly shocking and violent and people immediately started wondering if there was a political benefit to allowing the 9/11 attacks to happen? >> set us free. >> reporter: 9/11 happened right around the time that blogging and youtube started to take off. all of a sudden people who had alternate theories about 9/11 were able to share them in ways they couldn't before. >> the fuel burned off immediately upon impact. therefore, it is scientifically impossible 12 tons of steel and titanium was vaporized by kerosene. >> loose change was a documentary about the 9/11 attack put out in 2005ch it was top to bottom 9/11 conspiracy theories. it changed and his change soared in popularity, followers called themselves truthers, drawing
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millions of viewer s in under a year. it showed a conspiracy theory didn't need to be pulled by someone power. , anybody's ideas could go viral. >> the evolution of those sites expedited the ability of that information to start spreading? >> nothing was ever the same. and 9/11 was the first one where we saw how that was going to work. >> waiting in the wings to coopt a growing movement with alex jones, where he once sold videotapes one by one, he had a main line straight into american households. a new website info wars, which he used to amplify the 9/11 truth movement. >> alex quickly became the world's leading 9/11 truth per. that it was an inside job. it was always these elitists, the new world order, the fbi,
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they're all trying to destroy our freedom. >> but after the 2000s drew to a close, jones turned to his meg that phone to start promoting an even more outhappenedish theory and his egregious accusations would target the most vulnerable. >> >
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i guess i could say i was a normal high school student. i was considering going into broadcast journalism to tell other people's stories, i was getting ready to apply to school and the shooting happened. >> three years ago when david hogg was 17, his high school became a hunting ground. >> i got a horrific piece of news. i am sorry to have to report we are talking about a high school. shots have been fired. >> you see chaos terrified students, their hands on their heads, running to safety, frightened parents rushing to the school, waiting for word on their children. are they dead or you a live? >> 14 of david's classmates, three staff members were killed. he had just experienced the deadly yeftd school shooting in marine history. >> you mentioned one of your
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first thoughts was your sister who was in school with you. from the time that you started to feel that to the time she found out she was okay. what was that like for you? >> it was horrifying. then getting home and not knowing how to console my sister after she lost what we initially thought was three friends, we found out eventually was four. how do you help someone 14-years-old cope with that? you can't. >> reporter: devastated by his community and voice his anger. he returned to the high school on his bike, where national media converged on the scene. >> i found a camera crew and said, hey, i was there. >> now on to an eyewitness, a student who was there as this horrific event unfolded. >> i was talking to anyone that wanted to talk to me. i got up the next morning after getting three hours of sleep and went back to the morning news. >> reporter: collectively, david
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and his classmates participated in seven interviews following the shooting. soon after, they found themselves on a collision course with alex jones, who started using his info wars webcast to spread outrageous lies about mass shootings. >> my god is with the timing and everything that happened, this is staged. >> reporter: the conspiracy theory was popularized after sandy hook shooting. it was basically a claim that mass shootings are not real, they're staged by the government with the use of crisis factors. >> by spinning this or risk lie, info wars seized on intoers the federal government was planning on a massive seizure of private guns. >> they will plan to take handguns and rifles, make you turn them in. >> the only thing alex jones promoted is one of the worst.
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the idea is they are not people that died, actors played a role. >> i heard gunshots. we initially thought it was a drill. >> you say the time line, when in the closet, when it's beginning, he'sed a his house and drives 3 miles on a bike. >> not true as all. they take videos of me that said i went back to school on my bike and edit that to sound like i wasn't at school in the first place when i was. you can ask students in the classroom. you can ask students that i was with during the shooting. i was there. >> the fact that you would have to try to prove that you were there during a mass shooting is ludicrous. >> yeah, it is. it is absolutely ludicrous. >> reporter: fueled by info wars and conspiracy forums, accusation began ramping up. when someone posted a video on youtube claiming david was an actor, it skyrocketed to number one on the platform overnight.
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what was that like when you first found out about it and to be the subject of all of that? >> youtube has control of what goes on the trending page. the fact that may made money through that monetization is disgusting. when i realized the entire point is to stop speak, it's psychological warfare as children to stop us from advocating what we believe in. >> no more silence. >> reporter: the activism of parkland students did attract attention a. lot of it. what started as small protests snowballed into a national youth-led movement for gun reform. how soon did you start to get death threats after you started out? >> basically immediately, they said you will be doa. there were photos of me having my head cut off by isis.
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there were people that showed up with guns at your protests. they would follow us to the hotel with their gun in their hand. >> what did this do to your family is? >> it's been incredibly terrorizing. a sheriff's office call said is someone holding a gun to your head demanding $100,000? we got a call about it and the entire s.w.a.t. team for the count whycy on the front lawn with police helicopters around and snipers down the street pointed at your front door. >> reporter: local camera cruise flocked to the scene. the incident was broadcast nationwide. >> do you have a concern the more you speak out, the more you invite conspiracy theories to spew information about you? >> yep. the reality is i can't let that stop me. these conspiracy theories exist i exist because there is a vacuum of truth.
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the easy thing to combat that is the el the truth. i love youtube as a platform. i use it all the time. we have seen great things come from them. they also have the power to do just as much damage. >> misinformation packaged into youtube content has caused real harm. social media companies are facing questions about how conspiracy theories spread on their platforms. as it turns out, it's baked into the very dna of how they were created and how they turn a pro profit. lowe's showrooms have a variety of stylish flooring
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. we can probably remember a time when social media stuck to the basics, friends, picture, a these platforms become a hotbed of misinformation and conspiracy theories? amidst growing pressure, the american congress went to social media giants for answers. >> it's not hard to catch every content without infringing on people as a society. the bottom line can tell you dangerous content. are you not bystanders. are you encountering this stuff. >> among those testifying were former executives who now harbored doubt about the design
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of tear business. >> i wanted to improve the world we all lived in. instead, social media services that i and others have built have torn people apart with lobbying speed and intensity. i fear we are pushing ourselves to the brink of civil war. >> when tim kendall was hired by facebook if 2006 to be head of monetization, it was his job to fine out how the platform can make profits? >> how do social media companies make money? >> they sell ads. the way they grow is to extract more attention tomorrow than they did today. you know, lisa signs up for the service and it takes in all thes e inputs about her around
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your behavior. >> it's collecting my data? >> checking your data. we have this content and we have this notion of who influences you and this al ongoing algorithm that knows what your weaknesses are, your inclinations are. the algorithm is given a clear piece of instruction. get lisa to spend more time tomorrow arc little more tomorrow. >> if you and i have different habits, we consume different kind of news and information, would you receive different information tan i would receive based on the data that's been collected? >> absolutely. yes. you and i could get very different results. depending on hire data about ourselves, prior data about the people around us and even where we're located nut country. we seen this play out with covid and the divergence of facts and opinions on that, like what is true? >> let's use hydroxy color quinn as an example. if i feel it is the answer to our covid woes, i'm seeking that information out, will i continue to receive information that
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validates? >> yes. >> what i have been looking for? >> yes. >> you on the other hand discount it entirely, would you receive information that continues to discount it? >> yes. yes. >> so lou do you know what's real? how would anyone know what's real? smr that's the essence of why i'm so concerned. i mean, ten years ago, it was picture of our friends. and that was enough. but now it's conspiracy theories, incendiary content, violence, trialism the am go rhythm figured out driving wedges between people on these controversial issues is just just wonderful for business. >> do you think there is this concerted effort to incite this kind of trialism? >> my view is they don't have malicious intent. i think they're negligent. >> these algorithms, can they be built to work differently, to stopspread spreading information that is not true? >> you have to agree on a source of truth and then you'd have to
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feed that truth into the algorithm. then you'd have to tell the algorithm, create engagement, meet the profit numbers, but do at this time without lying. the reason that's not happening, in my view, is the incentives aren't there. even though i believe it is within their capability. >> you mean facebook wouldn't make money? >> they wouldn't make as much money. >> in your congressional testimony, you expressed fear that the consequence of all this could be civil war. why do you believe that? >> i was thinking about civil war because it's the natural extrapolation of an ongoing algorithm that has the financial incentives to pull us apart. >> studies have show it only taxi a few minutes of exposure to a conspiracy theory to alter your perspective. imagine the ripple effect magnified by millions when conspiracy theories are created, posted, and reposted by the
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make no mistake this election was stolen from you, from me. >> after donald trump's conspiracy theory the election was stolen ended in violence, his twitter account was suspended permanently. and after he left office, many qanon followers left the online movement and disavowed it as a hoax a. hard core group of believers still identify with their message. i'm trying to find out why. so facebook, twitter and instagram have been cracking down on people who are posting anything qanon-related. so many people have moved to this other site that has no content controls and claims to be the world's premier free speech platform. this site is called parlor, a one of a handful of forums that have no restriction on hate speech or misinformation. i want to just engage in some
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conversation. a few days later, someone connected with us. he remains committed to q and agreed to chat on camera if we conceal his identity. how are you? >> i'm good. how are you? >> i'm doing well. thanks for talking to us. >> he calls himself d.c. and tells me he too was banned from facebook but after it dgrew to 90,000 followers. >> we keep posted and we would amplify the posts on facebook. >> what role does donald trump play in your world view? >> he showed us what a real president can do. it's that simple. he was unbought. we all know if it wasn't for covid trump would have had the
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best economy in his term. and i believe covid was brought onto squash the economic boom. >> so you think that cosid is something generated to defeat donald trump? >> not just donald trump but america in general. >> with all due respect, your world view, it seems pretty dark. where do you think we're all headed? >> i think a lot of people are going to die. >> and how do you think people are going to die? >> the vaccinations becoming mandatory. that's a pretty good way to kill people. >> do people and your friends do they believe what you believe? >> no. i mentioned it to them but i do not mention it around them. i've lot too many already. my goal is to simply expose everything people need to know. >> so that now donald trump is
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no longer president, what do you think is going to happen to the movement? >> maybe it is time for the people to take what they've learned and put it into action. >> how far are you willing to take this? you obviously feel very strongly about your beliefs. >> one thing i take more issue with than anything if you want to quiet me down, you'd crack down on pedophilia. if that was the only thing that would go away, i would be happy. >> but, d.c., what if it's not true? like what if it's not true? >> all i'm doing is asking questions. all i have is a parlor account with maybe 30, 40,000 followers and that's it. i'm just trying to warn everybody. i believe that the best is yet to come. and you can't stop what's coming. >> and what do you think is coming?
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as we emerge from the pandemic and rely on research and facts to guide us forward, one thing is clear. the truth is more important than ever but becoming harder and harder to pin down. >> i always thought rationality
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and reason would be the thing that saves us, but it hasn't. reason has been surprisingly ineffective. >> some lies never really go away. these are not fringe ideas being promoted by fringe people who don't have an audience. these are fringe ideas being promoted by people very much in the mainstream. what i worry about is that people will start to believe there are no good sources of information and that they have no way of knowing what is true and what is not true. >> pressure continues to build on social media giants to intervene and play a more active role in fighting disinformation. and in response ceos from twitter, google and facebook for pointed to changes including fact checking measures and deplatforming users who spread conspiracy theories. >> some of you would say we're doing too much and removing free speech rights. some of you will say we're not doing enough and end up causing more harm.
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points of view are reasonable and worth exploring. >> on youtube there are videos that violated our incitement policies. >> the system isn't perfect, but it's the best approach that we found to address misinformation in line with our country's values. >> quite a number of social media companies have de-platformed people who have been spewing misinformation and conspiracy theories. is that enough? >> my concern over the de-platforming we've seen to date is it doesn't appear to be particularly consistent. i think there need to be more transparent policies about what people can do and say on these platforms. and these companies have to exercise judgment around applying their policy so that society doesn't unwind. >> until we get to a time and place where social media companies take full responsibility for misinformation on their
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platforms, we can listen to the people who have fallen down the rabbit hole and learn from their experience. >> when i really started to understand as i had come out of qanon what it really was and how deep that hatred and racism was sowed, i was absolutely horrified that i was involved in it in any way. i am deeply sorry, and i will spend the rest of my life trying to make it right. >> we are starting to see what it looks like when our sense of reality is incredibly fractured and divided. >> so what's the end result if we continue along on this path? where do we go from here? what happens? >> if we can't come to a shared sense of what we want this country to look like or even the basic facts of what we're fighting about, we very lit rate can't get anywhere. we are just mired in an even more heightened of the partisan divides we've been dealing with for the last 50 years.
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>> no one wants to think we've given up on shared truths. if there is a way forward, it won't be found within the comfort of our own virtual bubbles but in the open, transparent and sometimes uncomfortable exchange of ideas. i was always different. i had always this thing inside me i was going somewhere different. >> diana provided a very public mobile for

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