Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fake News: Propaganda Specialists Maximize Their Reach

The dissemination of "fake news" and related concerns have been the buzz lately. The term might be loosely defined as misleading stories that are indistinguishable from real news. Facebook was identified as one of the leading platforms to spread fake news, but the problem is widespread and the sources are many. Numerous websites have long been known to publish completely fictitious stories and design their sites to resemble authentic journalism outlets.

Facebook front man Mark Zuckerberg has been under fire due to his moderating policies, or lack thereof, and the heat is probably justified. However, the issues Z-berg and his colleagues face are more complex than simply verifying the content of stories exchanged on their websites and media. As explored in a recent post, the propaganda war is in full force, and those waging it are making no bones about doing so on Facebook, Twitter and similar social media sites in addition to the more traditional venues. 

Such circumstances put site administrators and editors in the positions of not only fact-checking the accuracy of material posted or submitted, but they might also get more than they bargained for when trying to verify accounts and, specifically, those who operate them. It's not just amateur hoaxers or clickbait scams that are littering your time lines. Consider:

WaPo reported in 2006 that hundreds of "news" stories published in Iraqi newspapers were secretly written by U.S. troops. The Lincoln Group, which claimed to have 12 government contracts totaling over $130 million, paid newspapers to print the stories. Rather than term the work psychological operations or propaganda, the president of Lincoln Group preferred to call it spreading "influence," and in spite of the fact the project was contracted by a psyops division of the military. 

- An Associated Press investigation, details of which were published in 2009, indicated the Pentagon would increase its spending by 63 percent, to some $4.7 billion, to win what it called "the human terrain" of world public opinion. It would employ 27,000 people for the effort, which nearly matched the 30,000-person work force of the entire State Department. The massive operation included the Joint Hometown News Service, which in 2009 alone planned to put out 5400 press releases, 3000 television releases, and 1600 radio interviews, among other work, and without informing audiences it was produced by Pentagon staff.

- It's by no means just Americans and their allies who care what you think. Earlier this year, Swedish officials encountered a flood of false stories on social media coinciding with their considerations to enter into a military partnership with NATO. Public appearances were consistently interrupted and sidetracked when officials were questioned on fallacies circulating about how the potential alliance would harm citizens, such as an incorrect claim NATO soldiers would rape Swedish women and not face prosecution. Though the sources of the fake news stories were never conclusively identified, the Kremlin was named as a leading suspect and continues to prioritize the use of "weaponized" information to stir discord and weaken cohesion among nations opposing Russia.

Propaganda and psyops have long been staples of the global intelligence community, but the exploitation of the internet and social media is a relatively new mask in the old charade. The circumstances are complex and have the potential to become more intricate for site admin than simply verifying a corporate account or checking the authenticity of its posts. 

It's not just about whether or not something is true. It's also about who says so, the nature of their relationship with the hosting venue, and the scope of the situation. I would completely expect such circumstances to "influence," as the Lincoln Group put it, the implementation and enforcing of fake news policies on various social media sites.


  1. "It's also about who says so . . . and the scope of the situation"

    It's easy to point to ufology as a prime example of fake news - hoaxes being disseminated; things judged to be "mysterious" without people spending a few minutes to research what they are writing about; material taken from satiric sites and being regarded as true. There is too much to even begin listing and you have covered much of it here . People have made their career out of providing such "news."

    I have also been thinking a lot lately about how various sites spread news that Obama planned create a civilian security force and declare martial law. Someone I knew from ufology was convinced that he had to arm himself because Obama was going to declare martial law and take away our gardens. With the real news providing plenty of evidence that the country is being taken down a course based on race, fear, climate change denial, and the like, I could certainly understand it if Obama was tempted to find a way to intervene. But fake news is just that and those who want to believe have long since gone to the next thing.

    The most dangerous news, however, does not need fake sites. The government simply needs to declare that it's enemy has weapons of mass destruction and mainstream media will report it. So who is there to believe?

    Those in power can easily manipulate the media, and with much of the news consolidated in a few hands, perhaps there reasons why people have been willing to believe fake news - and these days, people seem to want to seek confirmation rather than information.

    My daughter us studying to be a journalist. I have told her that she has her work cut out for her.

    1. Thanks for your comments, erickson. The false accusations of WMD, the fears of martial law, and, yes, the untold numbers of Americans who completely believed their federal government was planning to attack them through Texas. Truth be told, I think they're disappointed.

      Good luck to your daughter!

  2. Hi, check this article out from 2011, and I can imagine how much moreso that has 'progressed', since then.
    I feel convinced that a Russian type of equivalent, from an ultra far 'right' faction in that country, along with the Alt Right, here, helped Trump get in. Just try to bring up anything pro left wing, pro socialist on YouTube, It's --as if-- such as, Infowars, has coopted the site. I for one am horrified that such as, Trump got in, and I hope this don't get me into a fight with anyone, not looking for that, here. There is evidence that we ( U.S. ) are responsible for so called Islamic terror chaos, and I was glad to see Russia fighting ISIS, much to Western dismay. I decided they were the good guys. But then I witnessed odd aggressive things on social media, from Russia, false stories about Hillary, and WikiLeaks piling on there. Too. I am certain our U.S. election was swayed from outside (and inside)and I will go so far as to state, that I believe a global trend akin to the Third Reich. The Info Wars are on.

    1. Hey, thanks for the link, Simone! Now that you mention it, I recall reading about the software that enabled intel personnel to operate up to ten online personas at a time on social media sites. First thing that came to mind was disrupting discussions at online forums. Any way one wants to look at it, though, it sure appears that controlling the narrative - or at least disrupting it - has been successfully accomplished, probably from a lot of sources. Hoping things improve...