As I mentioned last week, I read an interesting article by Jonathan Rauch who was describing how people can highjack democracy and chip away at freedom. The last technique in their arsenal is what he termed "the firehose of falsehood."
Rauch defines this as using every means possible to spread partial truths or outright lies, no matter how divorced from reality they might be, to flood the system. The aim is to pour out so many untruths that the public and media cannot possibly combat them all. The purpose is to leave the public confused, cynical, and mistrusting, a perfect scenario for an autocrat or demagogue to step in.
All these methodologies -- trolling, spreading conspiracies, and flooding the airwaves with lies -- are forms of information warfare, and are very sophisticated. It causes people to react emotionally, to listen to the lies and try to get more information about them, and to mistrust objective media and social institutions.
What can we do about this? First, be careful where you get your news information. Go to trusted and unbiased media outlets (such as PBS in the United States). Second, learn about media literacy and teach it to your children. Third, vote out people who engage in this kind of behavior. Finally, realize that people who say outlandish and hurtful things may be doing it for some nefarious reasons. Don't ignore that fact! Be wise, be objective, and be careful. Democracy and freedom are precious. Defend them.