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A Topsy-Turvy Online Election

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A Topsy-Turvy Online Election

Hello everyone! Welcome to the first edition of WIRED Political laboratory newsletter. I’m Makena Kelly, a senior political writer at WIRED, and I’m so glad you’re here.

After the 2020 US election, the rhetoric from the internet spread to the real world, with violent consequences. In the years since, those drumbeats have only gotten louder, the disinformation gloomier, the conspiracies more unhinged, the technology more enabling. It’s already a dizzying backdrop – and it’s only March. I’m here to help you understand not only what’s happening now, but also what’s coming next.

This is an edition of WIRED Political laboratory newsletter. Sign up now and get it in your inbox every week.

Politics has never been stranger – or more online. WIRED Political Lab is your guide through the vortex of extremism, conspiracies and disinformation.

The state of the internet

The web is barely recognizable compared to four years ago. Companies like Meta have all but given up on news and political content grilled by Congress more times than I can remember. Elon Musk bought Twitter, now X, fired most of the site’s trust and safety teams and turned the platform into a wasteland of conspiracies and disinformation. Additionally, AI-generated robocalls and spam are filling voicemail inboxes and news feeds, challenging regulators and social networks like never before. And TikTok has become a powerful cultural and political force that even the Biden campaign team has joined, despite the national security risks that some intelligence officials and lawmakers have suggested in the past.

Campaigns have had to adapt: ​​“I think the fact that the internet has become more personal over the last four years just means we have to play the game a little bit differently and try a lot of new things,” Rob Flaherty, deputy campaign manager for the re-election campaign of Biden, told me about his decision to join TikTok. Longshot candidate RFK Jr. for example, has leaned on podcasts The Joe Rogan Experienceand influencers on Instagram and TikTok to get his message to voters.

Yet everyone heard the news last week: the House of Representatives passed a bill that would force Bytedance, the China-based owner of TikTok, to sell the app or have it banned in the US. That makes it a bit wild that campaigns are going all-in on a platform that may not exist, and that their own colleagues are trying to destroy.

While TikTok may be coming to an untimely end, other platforms are being revived. My colleague William Turton and I reported Wednesday that Parler, one of the first censorship-free social media alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, is preparing to relaunch after being offline for nearly a year after being purchased by a right-wing marketing firm. Just this week, Parler returned to iOS and expects to be approved for the Google Play Store later this week.

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