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tv   This Is Life With Lisa Ling  CNN  November 6, 2021 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT

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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 stormed the united states capitol, fueled by the baseless claim
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that the election was stolen. >> make no mistake, this election was stolen from you, from me. >> this is the consequence of conspiracy theories running amock. accusations of lies, treason, and even pedophilia flew from all directions. it begs the question how did we end up here. americans have always been fascinated with alternate versions of the truth. >> has the potential to get as huge as it's become. >> in the last decade conspiracy thinking has gone mainstream and it might not be entirely our fault. >> if you're a democrat and i'm a republican, the algorithms work o push us apart. >> tonight we're taking a look at a system that's designed to stoke paranoia and play off our
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fears. >> it's psychological warfare with us as children. >> to meet somebody who dove head first into a conspiracy theory. >> i couldn't stop thinking about it. and it broke me. >> and someone who's still very much in it. >> you can't stop what's coming. >> and what do you think is coming? >> justice. >> 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. stories emptied, stadiums went silent and all of us learned the meaning of social distance. at the same time that we isolated from each other -- >> this is a hoax. >> we have the biggest -- >> the volume of our news feed went to full blast. >> we have -- >> getting bigger. >> people are dying. >> coronavirus. >> we tried our best to keep up appearances, but as weeks, then months, went by under lock dourngs it got harder and harder. >> there's suffering and there's death. >> worldwide pandemic. >> people who looked like they had it together with you silently coming apart.
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>> on july 5th, 2020 at the height of the pandemic, a video started playing on twitter of a woman throwing masks. she live streamed the event. the video became a viral sensation and invented the people karen. >> 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's well versed in appearances, she runs a small public relations firm catering to luxury and lifestyle, but her business was up ended when the pandemic devastated arizona's hospitality industry. how did the pandemic start to affect you personally?
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>> i just didn't know what to do with myself? it was just this dead zone of time where i had nothing to do other than panic. >> melissa had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prone to extreme anxiety and like many of us, she was faced with an information overload. >> my issue with dr. fauci was he said no masks are necessary. then he dialed it back and said masks are necessary. i think the juxtaposition of the information that was so polar opposite is really what caused me to crack. i began to question what was happening. >> as she dug deeper into the internet trying to make sense of it all, melissa discovered a new theory. the pandemic was a cover-up for something far worse what were
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some of the things 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, you know, that's their voice, that's their house. i had never seen anything like that. >> melissa had stumbled into america's fastest growing conspiracy theory. qanon. >> the information seemed very real and very credible and hor horrifying. >> but did you ever think that that all could be 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. >> by now most of us have heard of the q aknapp conspiracy
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theory, a global trafficking ring, thousands of pedophiles and one man who will slap kwish this evil, now former president donald trump. it sounds ridiculous but some studies say qanon has so many reasons for people to be drawn for it. >> we have an opportunity to fight for what is right and to feel we're part of something big and heroic. >> they're giving the blood of children to fuel everything. >> tops into people's desire for connection, for people who might have been feeling isolated or feeling like they might not have a ton of support, this is incredibly productive. >> i'm speaking with an investigative journalist who has tracked you now conspiracy movements like this one have risen to the surface. >> what is qanon and where did it come from? >> it took hold early on in
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donald trump's presidency and it is basically the idea that he is secretly kabal of evil doers and that we are being told what he's doing through mysterious clues dropped by someone who calls themselves q. >> how is that something people have found themselves wanting to partake in? >> qanon has become a massive on line role playing game, and it's very addictive, because it gives people a sense of participating in something really big. if you put these clues together correctly, you will vanquish an unthinkable evil. >> anna tells me qanon is more than memes and viral clips. it's part of a much older, darker story. >> the idea of a secret group of sexually abusive evil doers is
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literally a medieval conspiracy theory. it is an anti-semitic idea that juice were meeting late at night to slaughter christian children and use their blood in rituals, but it spread beyond that. you can see elements of it in qanon, which claims that evil doers are meeting in secret to abuse children. >> the agent lie has been weapon niced again and again throughout global history but still didn't turn elissa. even though there is a lot of anti-semitism that goes along with what qanon is about, that still didn't dissuade you? >> i picked and choosed what i ascribe 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
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riff that resist 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. i said fine. i'll go stay in a hotel i was filled with rage. i was thinking about everything i had learned about qanon, it's like they're doing this to us. when i saw the maps, i just lost its. >> [ bleep ], [ bleep ]. i don't have the [ bleep ] [ bleep ]. >> the target video was just one of several post by melissa. in them, she bragged about connections to q, loyalty to donald trump, and used a torrent of racist language. >> [ bleep ] [ bleep ] [ bleep ]. >> elissa lost clients, friends,
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and nearly her marriage after her husband filed for divorce. >> what's going on? >> 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. i'm looking at this reddit page, stories of people who have gone down this qanon rabbit hole. here's one who says lost my mom to this qanon [ bleep ]. talked about killing small children and drinking their
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blood. the saddest thing about this is how grounded in fear people are. we're all afraid. we're all unsure of what's going to happen tomorrow. where is it going to end? i have no idea. that's also really scary. qanon is a digital phenomenon but nothing exists in a vacuum. as it turns out, the paranoia that fuels q is as american as apple pie.
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it's easy to think of conspiracy theories as something new, a byproduct of the digital age, but journalist anna merlin points out that this has happened over and over again in america. >> conspiracy theories tend to come to prominence more during time of social upheaval, social change, confusion about world events, all those things can lead to a situation where people's imaginations can run wild. >> most conspiracy theories spread by word of mouth. like today it was a time of rapid social change. the civil rights movement to up send a system of white
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supremacy. a small group on the far right sought to capitalize on the resistance to change. >> the john birch society was engaged in spreading conspiracy theories. they openly accused their political opponent of being commune igs, that the government was riddled with secret communists who are, woing to undermine the workings of the government and this was an exist al threat. >> organized and directed by communists to enslave all mann kind. >> it's something we've seen that people who don't believe that you believe ideologically are a danger to the us and that idea has recurred a lot. >> these ideas can also take root when people have lost trust in their leaders. >> conspiracy theorists don't
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have to do very much work to make people believe that the government is capable of atrocities, because they have perpetrated them in the past. >> 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 a final success. we will do this because our own security is at stake. d the emotion 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. >> it was when i was going to go and chose it was probably more
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people crowded around the conspiracy table that the ar-15 table. the clues were there. it had the potential to get as huge as it's become. >> john bronson is no stranger to bizarre stories. an author and film maker he's covered secret military programs, psychopaths and mind control. two decades ago, there was a story about extremism that led him to the conspiracy thinking. >> they all believed that there was a shadow write kabal secretly rolling and in some secret room. it's a very clear hoax that, of course, influenced the nazis, influenced light supremacists right up until today. >> john wanted to learn more about how these ideas were spreading in fringe groups on the right and discovered a
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devoted fan base determined to expose the threat of a new world order. >> against the new world order, against the communists and the socialists and people who run the whole filthy show. >> one man from texas sold mail order videos. his name was alex jones. >> now that they run the world, they plan to sack this country. are you going to let them? >> what is your relationship with alex jones? >> i first met alex jones when he was completely unknown, broadcasting out of a child's bedroom in his house. >> no longer is the new world order some foggy apparition over the next hilg, the topic of extrem extremists. >> they shared a common fascination. there were powerful groups meeting in secret, vip's who gathered in remote locations.
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>> this weird thing in california where people are rumored to attend a ritual that ends in a human effigy being burned in front of a giant stone hall. >> it was just what he was looking for. power brokers have attended, celebrities and former presidents, also. for 150 years, the gatherings had been a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists. >> when i heard that, i must try to sneak in. >> we're going to get the information out to people. >> i remembered is that guy alex jones, so i called him up and i said thinking about, do you want to come. >> not going to do anything stupid this weekend. le. >> i'm completely nonviolent when it comes to getting the information. that's what i'm trying to do. >> and what did you see what you got there?
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>> well, the whole thing was am amazing. we watched this ceremony which alex managed to women with the camera in his bag. >> the footage was shaky and dark but captured what clearly was a ritual. joog and this big firework display. >> it turned out what john and alex jones witnessed was the cremation of care. creepy looking, yes, but more of a summer play put on by rich men. >> ok. so it was a weird event but not particularly nefarious. >> it was art but not nefarious. alex brought out a video called dark secrets inside bohemian
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grove like a he's stumbled into a satanic ritual. >> what you observed was something that actually happened. video 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 high society people would do this on their summer vacation, yet alex wants to turn it into something crazier, an actual human sacrifice. >> would you say that's one of the events that gained alex jones some legitimacy in certain circles? >> yes. alex jones is first hit but then -- that was the thing that really sent him flying. >> that is the world trade center and we have unconfirmed
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reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers. >> 9/11 was an incredibly shocking and shock ing and violent and sudden event. >> 9/11 happened right around the time that blogging and youtube started to take up. all of a sudden, people who had alternate theories about 9/11 were able to share them in ways they couldn't have before. >> the fuel would have burned off immediately upon impact. therefore, it is scientifically impossible that it was vaporized by kerosene. >> loose change was a documentary about the 9/11 attack that was put out in 2005. it was from top to bottom just a collection of 9/11 conspiracy theories. >> start is as a fascination when it hit the internet, "loose
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change" soared in popularity. people who called themselves truthers shared the video. >> it showed that a conspiracy theory didn't need to be pro ploeted by somebody really powerful. anybody's idea could go vooirl. >> seems likes a perfect storm now but the evolution of all those sites really expedited the ability of that information to start spreading. >> nothing was ever the same. the conspiracy theories was never the same. 9/11 was the first one we saw how that was going to work. >> waiting in the wings was alex jones. he once sold videotapes one by one, he has a line straight into american households. info wars. >> alex very quickly became the world's leading 9/11 truther, with the idea that it was an inside job.
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it was always test the new world order, the fbi, they're all trying to destroy our freedom. >> but after the 2000s drew a close, jones turned to his megaphone to start promoting an even more outlandish theory and his theories would target the most vulnerable. yes to clean and fresh ingredients! and yes to living life to the flavor-fullest. panera. live your yes. now $1 delivery. to make progress, we must keep taking steps forward. we believe the future of energy is lower carbon. and to get there, the world needs to reduce global emissions. at chevron, we're taking action. tying our executives' pay to lowering the carbon emissions intensity of our operations. it's tempting to see how far we've come. but it's only human...
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my life was relatively mundane, i guess you could say, as a normal high school student. i was actually interested in going into broadcast journalism to tell people's stories and was getting ready to apply school and everything and the shooting happened. >> three years ago when david hogg was 17, his high school became a hunting ground. >> i've just gotten a horrific piece of news. i am sorry to report hear that we're talking about a high school. shots have been fired. >> you see chaos, terrified students, their hands on their heads running for safety, frightened parents rushing to school, waiting on their children, are they dead or ahy? >> 14 classmates and three staff members were killed.
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he had just experienced the deadliest school shooting in history. you mentioned that one of your first thoughts was your sister, who was in school with you. from the time you started to feel that to the time you found out she was ok, what was that like for you? >> it was horrifying, and getting home and not knowing how to console my sister after she lost what we initially thought was three, with but turned out to be four. how do you explain that? >> eager to voice his anger, david returned to the high school on his bike where national media has converged on the scene. >> i saw a camera crew who was recording and said, hey, i was there. >> now on to a eyewitness. a student who was at stoneman douglas as this horrific event unfolded. >> i was talking to anyone that wanted to talk to me. i was out until like 3:00 in the morning. i was up after three hours of
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sleep and went back and did more interviews. >> they participated in more than seven interviews in the 48 hours following the shooting. soon after, they found themselves on a collision course with alex jones who had started use his info wars webcast to spread outrageous lies about mass shootings. >> my gut is with the timing and everything that happened, this is staged. >> the conspiracy theory was popularized after the sandy hook shooting and it was basically a claim that mass shootings are not real, that they're staged by the government with the use of what are called properties. >> they had seized on fears that the federal government was planning a seizure of privately owned guns. >> they are going to try to physically ban all sem always, rifles and make you turn them
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in. >> anything he promoted, it is one of the worst. the idea that they are not real people who actually died but actors playing a role. >> gunshots and we initially thought it was -- >> he's saying on these videos the time line, this is when it's beginning in the closet. when it's beginning he's at his house on his bike. >> not true at all. what they do is they take videos of me that say that i went back to school on my bike and edit that to make it 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 i was with during the shooting. i was there. >> fact you would even have to try to prove that you were there during a mass shooting is ludi ludicrous. >> it absolutely is lrude
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consensus. >> it skyrocketed to number one on the platform overnight what was that like when you first found out about it and to be the subject of all of that? >> they absolutely have chrome over what goes on their trending page. the fact that they made money is disgusting, but i realize the entire point of those things is to stop me from speaking. it is psychological warfare to stop us frommed a indicating what we believe in. >> no more silence! >> the activist of the students did attract attention, a lot of it. what started as small protests, snow balled into a national movement for gun reform. how soon did you start to get death threats after you started speaking out? >> basically immediately. there were people that sensed -- runners that said doa. there were photos that were sent
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of me having my head cut off by isis. there were people that showed up with guns at our protests. they would follow us to our hotel with their gun in their hand. >> how did it affect your family? >> it's been incredibly traumatizing for them. i got a random call and said, hey, is somebody holding a gun to your head? i was like no. and they're like, oh, well, we got a call about it. the entire swat team is on your front lawn with police helicopters around and snipers literally down the street waiting at your front door. >> local camera crews flocked to the scene and the incident was broadcast nationwide. do you have concern that the more you speak out the more you invite conspiracy theorist to exist? >> there's a vacuum of truth.
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the easy thing about that, to combat that decide so it is tell the damn truth. i love and enjoy youtube as a platform. i use it all the time. we have seen great things come from them. but they also have the power to do just as much damage. >> misinformation packaged into youtube content has caused harm. companies are facing questions about how conspiracy theorist spread on their platforms. it's baked into the very dna of how they were created and how they turn a profit. eeks! ( sighs wearily ) here, i'll take that! ( excited yell ) woo-hoo! ensure max protein. with thirty grams of protein, one-gram of sugar, and nutrients to support immune health! ( abbot sonic )
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we can probably remember a time when social media stuck to the basics, friends, pictures, likes, and interests. so how did these platforms become a hot bed of misinformation and conspiracy theories. amid growing pressure, congress went to social media giants for answers. >> it's not possible to catch every piece of harmful content without infringing on people's freedoms that i don't think we'd be comfortable with as a society. you're not bystanders. you're encouraging this stuff. >> among those testifying were
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former executives who now harbor doubts about the business. >> i want to improve the world that we live in. instead, social media services what i and others have broken people apart with alarming speed and intensity. i fear we're pushing ourselves to the brink of civil war. >> when he was hired by facebook to be the head of mon etization, it was his job to determine how the more could make profits. how do social medias make money? >> they sell ads. the idea is to attract more attention today than yesterday. it takes in upsets about your behavior. >> it's collecting my data. >> collecting your data. we have this content and we have this notion of who influences you. we have this algorithm that knows what your weaknesses are,
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what your inclinations are, and the algorithm is given a piece of instruction, spend time tomorrow, and a little more time tomorrow. >> if you and i have different habits, we consume different kinds of news and information, would you receive different information than i would receive based on -- >> absolutely. >> -- the data that's been collected? >> yes. you and i could get very different results depending on prior data about ourselves, prior data about the people around us, and even where we're located in the country. we've seen this play out with covid and the divergence of facts and ns on that, like what is true? >> let's use hydroxychloroquine as an example. if i'm someone who thinks there's a grain of snoont it is the answer to our covid whoas a
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whoas, will i continue to receive information that validate -- >> yes. >> -- what i've been looking for? >> yes. >> and you, on the other hand, discount it entirely, would you receive information that -- >> yes. >> -- continue to discount it? >> yes. >> so how do you know it's real? how would any know what's real? >> that's the accepts of why i'm so concerned. ten years ago it was pictures of our friends and that was enough. but now it's conspiracy theories, incendiary content, violence, tribalism. the algorithm has figured out that driving wedges between people on these controversial issues is just wonderful business. >> do you think that there is this concerted effort to incite this kind of tribalism? >> my view is they don have malicious intent. i think they're negligent. >> these algorithms, can they be built to work differently, to stop spreading information that is not true?
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>> you have to agree on what's truth and you have to feed that truth into the algorithm and then you have to tell the algorithm, create engagement, meet the profit numbers, but do it without lying. the reason that's not happening, in my view, is the incentive's not there. even though i believe it is within their capability. >> you mean that facebook wouldn't make money? >> it wouldn't make as much money. j 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 i think it's the natural extrapolation from an all-knowing algorithm that has fm incentives to pull us apart. >> studies have show that it only takes a few minutes of exposure to a conspiracy theory to altser your perception.
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make no mistake, this election was stolen from you, from me. >> after donald trump's baseless conspiracy theory that the election was stolen ended in violence, his twitter account was suspended permanently. and after he left office, many qanon left the online movement and disavowed it as a hoax. a hard core group of believers still identify with their message and i'm trying to find out why. so facebook, twitter, and instagram have been tracking 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. the site is called parler, one of handful of forums that have no restrictions on hate speech or misinformation.
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while i set up a page, i want to just engage in some conversation. a few days later, someone connected with us. he remains committed to q and would chat on camera if we conceal his identity? how are you? >> i'm good. how are thanks for talking to us. he calls himself d.c. and tells me, he, too, was banned from facebook but only after a group he created grew to over 90,000 followers. >> the name of the group was qanon great awakening. the main purpose of that facebook page was to, quote-unquote make normies of "q." when "q" posted we would amplify the post 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 that if it wasn't for covid trump would have probably had the best economy in
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history in his term. and i believe 100% the goal of it was to squash the economic boom. >> so you think that covid was something generated to defeat donald trump? >> not just donald trump but america in general. >> in all due respect your world view seems pretty dark. where do you think we're headed? >> i think a lot of people are going to die. >> and how do you think people are going to die? >> if vaccinations become mandatory, that's a pretty good way to kill a bunch of people. >> and do the people in your world, your friends, do they believe what you believe? >> no. i've mentioned it to them but i do not push it around them. i've lost too many friends from it already. if you're going to stop being friends with someone, beliefs are certainly a legitimate reason. my end goal is simply to expose everything.
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people need to know. >> so now that donald trump is 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 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? >> we don't know if it's not true if we can't bring it into the light. all i'm doing is asking questions. all i have is a parler account with more 30, 40,000 followers, and i'm just trying to warn everybody. i believe that the best is yet to come. and i believe you can't stop what's coming. >> and what do you think is coming? >> justice.
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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
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ever but becoming harder and harder to pin down. >> i always thought rationality and reason would be the thing it saves us, but thus far it hasn't. the reason has been surprisingly ineffective. >> what do we want? >> some lies never 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 main stream. what i worry about is people will start to believe there are no good sources of information and that they have no way of knowing what is true and 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 have pointed to changes including fact checking measures and deplatforming users who spread conspiracy theories. >> some of you will say we're doing too much and removing free speech rights. some of you will say we're not
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doing enough and end up causing more harm. both points of view are reasonable and worth exploring. >> on youtube videos that violate our incitement to violence policies. >> if something is false and we we have warning labels and significantly reduce its distribution. the system isn't perfect but the best approach we've found to address misinformation in line with our country's values. >> quite a number of social media companies have deplatformed people who have been spewing misinformation and conspiracy theories. is that enough? >> my concern over the deplatforming 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
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responsibility for misinformation on their 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 literally can't get anywhere. we are just mired in an even
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more heightened version of the partisan divides we've been dealing with for the last 50 years. >> 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. there is no denying that america is changing. and that is not sitting well with a lot of folks. guns and ammo are flying off the shelves and armed groups that call themselves militias are readying for a fight. >> stop the steal! >> the west is the best! >> just bring it to the capitol. >> the white men you talk about

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