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The front line of information warfare is literally in your hand

The front line of information warfare is literally in your hand
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All social platforms face an emerging problem — bots. Bots have the potential to sway consumers to purchase a product, destroy a competitor’s image through disinformation and can even influence the political environment.

According to David Caplan, the co-founder of TwitterAudit, “based on our data we would estimate that 40-60 percent of Twitter accounts represent real people.” Separately, new research from Carnegie Mellon University reveals, “Nearly half the 'people’ talking about the coronavirus pandemic on Twitter are not actually people, but bots.”

Twitter is evidently becoming a proving ground for disinformation as data volumes are circulated by fake accounts. For example, recently, Benjamin Strick, an open source investigator for BBC, identified an ongoing pro-Chinese government information operation aiming to skew narratives surrounding different topics.

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A multitude of social analytics tools leverage Twitter data as their means of detecting emerging trends, their means of measuring the effectiveness of a marketing campaign or to use in the planning of information operations. Bots can skew assessments — through confirmation biases that are bolstered by amplified volumes of data disseminated by fictitious personas. It is an alarming problem that is both costly and potentially damaging for businesses, rendering ineffective the application of data in making strategic decisions.

Fine-tune your “truth meter”

The future of modern warfare is no longer only on a physical battlefield, it sits permissively in your mobile device.

When it comes to information warfare, the lines are increasingly blurred and free of demilitarized zones. Influence through psychological operations can sway decisions — and even bury unpleasant details. Businesses and militaries are facing an influx of covert information-based attacks. Data is propagated without any thorough assessment of its reliability, creating a crowd-sourced inundation of perceived “reliability.”

Data travels at an astonishing speed, which can create a fertile environment for information manipulation. Often, manipulated content spreads quickly due to its “shock factor” — which appears to attract a specific demographic known for hastily reposting.

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Understanding that it would be nearly impossible to police every bit of digital content produced, I urge everyone to stop the impulsive spread of information that goes against basic principles of common sense.

Even our nation’s top officials — in positions of immense trust — are unwittingly spreading incorrect information.

American psychologist Dr. Raymond S. Nickerson explains, “confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations or a hypothesis in hand.” Even the slightest variance in analysis or interpretation can completely sway original content for the purpose of asserting a “new angle” that stands out from the rest.

I also recommend that analysts, consultants and regular people alike conduct additional due diligence before developing assessments derived — potentially — from misinformation.

We should consider vetting even the most reliable of sources — because we all interpret content differently.

More often than not, analysis blends with facts that can potentially be retransmitted as seemingly accurate statements — which is the precarious situation we are currently facing with much of COVID-19 reporting.

Andres “Dre” Fournier is the Director of Special Programs for Babel Street, Inc., providing advanced training, tradecraft development, and enhanced product support to a diverse Department of Defense (DOD) portfolio. His expertise spans over 10 years within the Publicly Available Information (PAI) collection and exploitation domain, mainly supporting Joint Special Operations. Fournier is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran with a collective 13 deployments both as a soldier and U.S. government contractor. He holds a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Project Management from Saint Leo University and has been at Babel Street, Inc. since 2017.