In July 2020, just as we were finding our sea legs with this podcast, Imran Ahmed joined to discuss the state of disinformation occurring around the world. As the founder of the UK’s Center for Countering Digital Hate, he had just produced a report that found anti-vax organizations were reaching 58 million people on social media—and this was well before the COVID vaccines were developed. The total amount of money spent by anti-vax groups and advertisers targeting their followers on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube turned out to be roughly $1 billion.
Imran’s group kept reporting and we kept covering them. You probably remember the Center thanks to its Disinformation Dozen report, which profoundly impacted awareness of just how much anti-vax leaders were monetizing their supplements, seminars, and other supposed COVID “interventions.” The report even reached the White House where Joe Biden called out the Disinformation Dozen during a press conference.
What’s changed in the nearly two years since we had Imran on? Well, a lot—and in some ways, not much at all. Julian interviews Imran this time around after having met up in person at the Defeat the Mandates rally in downtown Los Angeles. Imran discusses what’s changed, what hasn’t, and how the bottom line remains the same: namely, the conspiritualist’s bottom line. They also talk about the nature of free speech in an internet filled with disinformation.
Before hearing from Imran, Derek and Julian briefly discuss the state of disinformation and free speech online, which Derek frames in terms of urban planning and the concept of legibility.