For many of us, 2020 has been a very dangerous year. Alongside the usual headline grabbers like wars, violent crime, and terrorism, we also faced more insidious, creeping threats: a pandemic that has claimed more than 300,000 American lives, and the lives of 1.5 million people worldwide, thanks in part to waves of viral lies dismissing Covid-19’s deathly serious effects. Hackers who have spied on, attacked, and extorted countless companies and government institutions—including even hospitals—during a global health crisis. And a US president who has sought to fundamentally undermine both the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and democracy itself with nakedly self-serving, corrosive misinformation.
In a locked-down and socially distanced year that for many of us was spent more online than off, the presence of those dangers on the internet has never felt more real. Digital threats and information warfare were, in 2020, some of the most harmful forces in our society. Every year, WIRED assembles a list of the most dangerous people on the internet. In some respects, the actions of this year’s candidates resemble those of years past, from destructive hacking to sowing disinformation. But in a year where human society seemed more fragile than ever, the consequences of those actions have never been more grave.
For the sixth year in a row, Donald Trump tops our list. As his presidential term comes to an end, he remains the world’s single most powerful source of disinformation and the internet’s most toxic cyberbully. Trump has used his massive Twitter presence to downplay fears of Covid-19 and confuse public understanding since the virus’s earliest days, at a time when an organized response might have saved thousands of lives. He went on to promote unproven and eventually discredited treatments for the disease, like the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. He demanded the “liberation” of states whose governors instituted restrictions on businesses to stop the spread of Covid-19, and helped refashion the choice to wear a mask into a partisan political issue. In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, he railed against the Black Lives Matter…