Social media battleground: Disinformation is the game, chaos is the goal

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And the upcoming election is the perfect medium for it:

Intelligence officials have expressed concerns that Russian and other actors will have a major opening if mail-in ballots are slow to be counted, or there are charges and countercharges about the handling of mail-in ballots, which President Trump has already said are being used to “rig” the outcome.

During that time after the election, the two agencies said, hackers could amplify “disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy.”

Bolding mine, because these are issues that are already of major concern to many on the left. They know we're worried about it, thus we have been preconditioned to help in the dissemination of that disinformation. But here's where it gets really complicated: Some of these stories might be true. Black voters may get harassed in Missouri, an election system may get hacked in Arizona. But sharing the hell out of that story on Facebook or Twitter may also discourage people from voting. And that would make said disinformation a success. Facebook is going after some low-hanging fruit right now:

Facebook’s action on Thursday included the removal of one network that involved 214 Facebook users and related pages that focused primarily on Syria and Ukraine — both places where the Russian military is engaged — that involved fake accounts and fictitious personas. According to Facebook, they drove users to outside websites that posted data related to alleged leaks of “compromising information.”

The network had a limited following in the United States, Mr. Gleicher said, and dealt mostly with a range of political subjects including NATO, the Baltics and Belarus.

Another network drove users to a fake, seemingly independent think tank, and encouraged freelance writers to write for it, in an effort to create an echo chamber of pro-Russian views.

I call them low-hanging fruit because they are obvious Russian intelligence operations. That they don't have a large following in the U.S. means very little, as that can change in a matter of hours if something goes viral. Remember that NC-related Facebook page that ballooned to 50,000+ followers in about 10 days time? Same thing happened in Michigan:

Last Thursday after Whitmer extended the order until April 30. Garrett Soldano started a Facebook page called Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine.

"I was like, 'I'm going to reach out to 500 people, hopefully there are 500 people like me,'" he said.

The page now has more than 250,000 followers. People who don't understand why some things are prohibited and others aren't.

In times of crisis people scramble to get information, and most of those 250,000 saw a friend share something. Back to the disinformation, and some helpful guidance by Molly at the CIA:

1. Pause and Reflect.

Let’s say you’re scrolling down your social media news feed and you come across an article shared by a friend. The article, as most do, has a catchy thumbnail photo and a compelling ‘bottom line up front’ headline. Good or bad, the article is likely intended to evoke some sort of emotion. The first, and perhaps most crucial, step to increasing your web literacy is always to pause and reflect.

Articles may be framed in a way that preys on our emotions, with the goal being to get the reader to click or share the article. That often means that articles which may be factually inaccurate gain larger-than-expected viewership. In order to truly evaluate the veracity of a piece, we need to first set aside our own biases. It is such a convincing trap to believe (and share) information that matches what you already think. Taking time to reflect will ensure that we conduct a more thorough evaluation of the facts.

2. Establish Credibility.

Now that you’ve taken a step back from the article, take a few minutes to establish the credibility of the article, the website, the media outlet, and the author. Start with the URL. Are you looking at one of the standard top-level domains (.com, .net, .edu, etc.) or is there something not-quite-right? URLs ending in .co.com or some other non-standard variation are questionable and should be avoided as a primary source of information. What about the website itself? Though it may have an official-sounding title, does it seem like a professional publication? Legitimate media outlets have high standards, so a website rife with misspellings might be cause for concern.

Head to the website’s about and contact pages. Legitimate media outlets are clear about the ways in which you, the consumer, can contact them. If the outlet is missing a contact page, this could be a red flag. The outlet’s “About” page can give additional insight on the group, as well as their mission and goals. A legitimate media outlet will have a well-defined “About” page.

Check citations. Even if someone who purports to be an expert in a given topic has written something, see whether their citations are from reputable sources. If there are no citations, be even more skeptical and continue to investigate the author’s credentials.

And lastly, double-check that you’re not reading from a satirical website. Does the article seem a bit outlandish? Then it might be satire. If you’re not sure, head to their about page or check another source.

3. Verify. Verify. Verify.

Now we’ve come to the most time-intensive part of becoming an information-literate consumer, but even this doesn’t have to be too burdensome once you’ve turned it into habit. Establishing the credibility of a website is one thing, but confirming the accuracy of information presented is another beast altogether. As the famous adage goes: trust, but verify. What this means is that we should make it a practice to exercise healthy skepticism by verifying the information we consume. We can do this by finding multiple, unlinked sources to corroborate the claims made in an article.

While a lot of the research we do here at CIA is highly specialized and written by just a handful of experts, that is rarely the case in the outside world. You can almost always find a wealth of sources to verify information—unless, of course, the article isn’t as accurate as the author wants you to think.

4. Consider Stopping the Chain.

If, after establishing credibility and independently verifying the facts presented, you are reasonably sure that the information presented in the article is legitimate, that’s great! Use that information as you see fit, knowing confidently that you have taken the time to ensure its accuracy. ‘Knowing’ something to be true is one thing, but taking the extra few minutes to do a bit of leg work and independently verify its accuracy adds so much more to your understanding of the facts.

However, if after doing your due diligence you’ve found that the article you stumbled across in your news feed is inaccurate or otherwise misleading, consider stopping the chain.

Aside from stopping the spread of inaccurate information, keep in mind that your personal credibility is at stake. And with it, your ability to inform and advocate. The boy who cried wolf was eventually eaten.

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Comments

I know I harp on this

rather frequently, and I don't mean to insult anybody's intelligence. But these are desperate times, and people are feeling helpless, and that can lead to precipitous behavior.

Tillis is a card-carrying member

of the Trump disinformation cult. Maybe they'll all end up choosing to commit mass suicide in the fine tradition of Jim Jones. If not, maybe they'll simply be embarrassed to death.