Disinformation Is A Prevalent Threat

The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy and to business. In the last few years we have seen how disinformation - deliberate use of lies or half-truths - to confuse, incite, or enrage  can  lead to economic harm, physical damage and even loss of life.

Disinformation, the practice of blending real and fake information with the goal of duping a government or influencing public opinion, has been used by different governments over the ages. But disinformation is no longer the exclusive domain of government intelligence agencies. 

Typically deliverd via social media chanels unmediated by editorial control, disinformation, or fake news, has been used to undermining election integrity, as well as public health and safety and a company’s image and financial situation.

Politicians around the world are increasingly hiring private companies to spread disinformation online and disinformation is a profitable business. Its creation and promulgation across platforms including social networks and news websites generate a significant amount of revenue for many parties. At the same time it corrodes public trust in a way that can lead to real-world harm and disinformation-related deaths.

Research from the  Oxford Internet Institute (OII) has found that the “disinformation-for-hire” market is booming, with advertising, marketing and public relations companies offering to manipulate online opinion for political parties and governments. The OII have tracked government-sponsored disinformation activities in 81 countries and commercial disinformation businesses in 48 countries.

The fake news scene has evolved into a marketplace in which services are contracted, workers are paid and shameless opinions and fake readers are bought and sold. This industry is emerging around the world. Some of the private-sector players are driven by political motives, some by profit and others by a mix of the two. Public relations firms have recruited social media influencers in Europe to spread falsehoods. Politicians have hired staff to create fake Facebook accounts.

Western societies began to raise concerns about disinformation in 2016, triggered by disinformation related to the 2016 US presidential election. There have been claims over the misuse of Facebook data to manipulate voters the Brexit referendum.  These are recent and memorable examples from a long history of  disinformation which demonstrates how technology, economics, and culture, accelerated by social media, are interacting enable the disinformation industry. 

Axios:   DefenseOne:      BBC:    FT:     NYT:     Fast Company:    Oxford Internet Inst. / DemTech:    The Drum

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