Social media has opened new doors to spread disinformation, fake news, and propaganda quicker, easier, and broader than ever before. The number of countries using ads to influence social media has grown by 150% over the past two years. What are the targets of these campaigns, how are they being conducted, and what can you do to remain unaffected?
Why do Fake News exist?
More than 70 countries have been found to have used some form of manipulation of social media in 2018. Government agencies, political parties, or leaders typically ordered this. These were sometimes conducted instead by private contractors or civil organizations. These campaigns tend to focus on three key areas–propaganda for the pro-government and pro-party, propaganda against the opposing party, and messages to divide society.
Their aim is to confuse local and foreign social media users, but why? It becomes clear as you dig deeper that misleading information can have detrimental effects and can be used to:
Distract or divert debates from important issues. Magicians turn your attention away from their hands to work their tricks and so do the media; as a result, promoters of the project can secretly achieve their goals;
Incite violence, intensify speech of hatred, and increase division between cultural, political or social groups. One such example was the Muslim genocide in Myanmar in 2017 and beyond, caused primarily by Facebook propaganda;
To manipulate presidential elections or other public votes such as referendums, micro-target voters. It happened in 2016 and Brexit in the U.S. presidential election. Bad actors need to collect information on demographics of consumers, interests, jobs, etc. to shape tactics on how to polarize them to accomplish this.
Suppress basic human rights such as the right to freedom of expression or information. Propaganda places you in a distorted bubble of potentially false data, making it harder to distinguish what's right and what's true.
Influence global readers, which for authoritarian regimes is particularly important. The government is still using popular social media platforms that are forbidden for Chinese citizens to distribute favorable news around the world.
How do Fake News spread?
Disinformation spreads on social media like wildfire as people started to trust social media as their primary source of information. Social media allows companies to gather and manipulate a great deal of information about you. This makes it easier to target you, tailor and persuade messages to your taste. Politicians, for instance, are more likely to spend their money and approach people with ambivalent views. Converting someone who doesn't have a strong opinion on certain topics is much faster and more cost-effective. For instance:
Use bot accounts created to mimic real users or fake accounts of people. Many may use a combination of fake accounts or automatic messages or hacked and robbed accounts.
Working with the community, including organizations from civil society, youth groups, influencers from social media, and volunteers promoting the cause. Hiding behind these entities can make recognizing false information incredibly difficult.
Selecting different media styles to spread disinformation. You may not even speak of them as propaganda. As fake news and propaganda, images, videos, fake blogs, social media posts, trolls, commentaries and material created by influencers can all be used.
Select the right platform. Facebook remains one of the major propaganda sites, followed by Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Twitch. Experts on cybersecurity caution that Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and the Internet of Things will also be used to build and support misinformation in the near future.
How can you read through Fake News?
Ask yourself the following:
Does this post appeal to any emotions? If it evokes any negative emotions like anger or resentment, you might want to challenge the story of the media and look for the evidence. It may have been crafted precisely to trigger that emotional reaction.
Any grammatical errors? Until publishing it, most reputable news sources carefully edit and review their work, so errors could be indicators of content created for a different purpose.
Images are edited out of context? Reverse search the image through Google.
What is the source? Check the post's reference. Seems it legitimate? Bad actors could use spoofed URL-like techniques. They're going to try to fool you into thinking the source is reliable.
If you think you've found a fake news story, a fake profile, or any other kind of misinformation–report it. Most platforms of social media have built-in buttons that allow you to flag these content. Contact them directly if they don't.
Do not further spread the propaganda–resist the temptation of sharing it with your mates. You never know, somebody might believe it.
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