How social media is writing a new chapter in the history of propaganda and psychological warfare.

A worrisome piece by Zarrar Khuhro:

In many cases, the propaganda has been devious. CNN reports that a social media campaign calling itself Blacktivist and posting content aimed at creating outrage against the US government among African-Americans was being operated by Russia. The alleged aim of these and similar accounts was to amplify already existing racial tensions in the US in the run-up to the polls. Along with Blacktivist, some 470 Russian-linked accounts were identified by Facebook and reported to Congress.

Facebook also shared this information with Twitter, which took action on 200 accounts it determined were linked to Russia and sought to interfere in US politics.

Facebook recently revealed that Russian-linked accounts spent around $100,000 on political ads with “divisive social and political messages”. This may seem a small amount, but on Facebook these can reach a significantly large number of people. Moreover, this spend was simply to amplify and support other disinformation tactics already in place, and at incredibly low cost. For example, The Daily Beast reported that Russian operatives created fake accounts and used Facebook’s event tool to promote politically themed protests in the US, such as an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rally in Idaho.

Similar trends were also seen in the Brexit vote and the French elections. Older examples abound as well, such as the abortive US plan to create a mobile-phone based Cuban Twitter that would start off innocuously but then move towards anti-Castro propaganda. In 2013, the South Korean intelligence agency was accused of sending out 1.2 million tweets in an attempt to support presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. The use of false flags, sleepers and agent provocateurs is not new, but their organised and systematic deployment on social media indicates that a new chapter is being written in the history of propaganda and psychological warfare.

 

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