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Fake News Victims to Tech Companies: “How many deaths does it take for you to defend against disinformation?” 

*** Disinformation victims from Myanmar to Sandy Hook issue open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Susan Wojcicki ***

SAN FRANCISCO.— This week victims of disinformation from across the world have come to Silicon Valley to confront social media companies for the first time. The meetings were highly emotional, bringing social media employees to tears, as they came face-to-face with the human cost of the crisis fueled by their platforms. Following their meetings, these victims have issued an open letter calling for urgent action to stop the spread of disinformation and to recognize the deadly damage it can cause.

In reaction to the meetings with Facebook and Twitter, one of the victims, Ethan Lindenberger, said: “Our job was to touch the hearts of the executives inside the halls of Silicon Valley, to breakdown the firewall of apathy that can come when you’re facing a computer screen instead of a real person. We know the executives we met with will be taking our stories to the CEOs. The real question is whether Mark, Jack and Susan will start acting with the kind of urgency the world needs, the urgency that comes when you truly feel the pain you’re causing.”

Another victim, Tun Khin, representing the Rohingya people, said: “Social media helped sow the seeds for the Rohingya genocide and allowed the government’s propaganda defending its actions to spread. While Facebook has taken some steps, they have never been held truly accountable. And Twitter continues to give a platform to the genocidal mastermind, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to spread his racist messages. These platforms must clean up their act, especially ahead of Burma’s national elections next year which the Rohingya remain shut out from. And they must cooperate with the UN’s new investigative mechanism by handing over the evidence they hold of the genocide.”

A third victim, the Finish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro, said: "Social media companies operate as enablers of Russian propaganda trolls and extremist criminals. It's time the companies stand up and protect their users. I hope my experience as crime victim helps them to fix the issue."

The victims who have signed the letter include: two Rohingya leaders who saw misinformation inflame genocide in Burma; an award-winning Finnish journalist facing death threats for uncovering Russian troll farms; a father of a Sandy Hook victim who was part of the lawsuit against Alex Jones; a high school student who has demanded vaccination after his mother refused to vaccinate him and his five siblings based on information on Facebook, and several more.

Addressed directly to Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Susan Wojcicki, the letter says that: “This week we have only one message for you — fake news has real victims. It affects real people, real families, and real communities. Despite what you say in public, your platforms continue to be weaponized to spread lies, hate and fear. So we’ve come together from different corners of the world to say, enough is enough. You couldn’t protect us, but you can protect others.

Touring Silicon Valley, the disinformation victims have been promoting solutions to the disinformation crisis, including calling for platforms to ‘Correct the Record’ by having platforms show corrections from independent fact checkers to anyone who saw or shared fake news, much like newspapers do.  
The group was hosted by Avaaz, the global advocacy group with more than 50 million members worldwide. “We are all fake news victims,” says Fadi Quran, Campaign Director for Avaaz. “Misinformation is tearing apart our common truths, dividing our societies, and undermining our democracies — from the fight against climate change to the global vaccination epidemic to compromising our elections, this impacts all of us.”    

Notes to editor:

Who are the disinformation victims? Please contact us for any interview requests:

Jessikka Aro (Finland) is a journalist who researches pro-Russian troll farms and disinformation tactics. After a visit to St Petersburg to investigate the Internet Research Agency, where she interviewed employees at the "troll factory" who create fake online accounts and produce fake stories, she encountered a significant backlash from pro-Russian trolls. She’s faced 5 years of coordinated disinformation attacks, calling her a spy and a NATO drug dealer, resulting in constant death threats, harassment and hate.

Tun Khin (Myanmar) is a Rohingya human rights activist and community leader. He still has cousins and friends in Myanmar who remain constantly under threat. Tun has briefed officials on the continuing human rights violations committed against Rohingya populations, and the role of social media in stoking the violence. He has presented on this issue at the US Congress and State Department, UK Parliament, Swedish Parliament, EU Parliament and Commission, the UN Indigenous Forum and the UN Human Rights Council.

Ethan Lindenberger (United States) is a teenager who was not vaccinated by his parents. Lindenberger testified earlier this year to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and stated that his mother received most of her anti-Vaxx disinformation on Facebook. He stood firm even in the face of anti-vaxx speeches from Dr Rand Paul.

We also have other disinformation victims who are available to be interviewed remotely, including the father of a Sandy Hook victim, a parent who almost lost their child in the ongoing vaccine crisis, and a climate activist who faced​ death threats after a national politician spread fake news about her.

More on Avaaz’s Work:

[1] Our Mark Zuckerberg cutouts dogged the Facebook CEO from the DC Capitol to the EU Commision in Brussels to the UK Parliament.

[2] We are running a massive disinformation team in Europe - just last week they got Facebook to take down a network reaching 1.7m people in Spain days before the election.

[3] The same team released a report on the fake news (reaching 105m views) that fueled the Yellow Vests crisis in France.

[4] We ran a team in Brazil that exposed a massive disinfo network (28 pages with 12.6m interactions) during the Brazil elections.

[5] Our call for Facebook and others to  Correct the Record - like newspapers have to - as a primary solution to disinformation is currently being tested by a Facebook team and has been endorsed by people like Julian King, EU Security Commissioner.

[6] We’re working with legislators in Brazil to pass precedent-setting disinformation legislation.