Brian Gallagher and Kevin Berger
Originally published 14 Feb 19
Here is an excerpt:
When it comes to misinformation, twas always thus. What’s changed now?
O’Connor: It’s always been the case that humans have been dependent on social ties to gain knowledge and belief. There’s been misinformation and propaganda for hundreds of years. If you’re a governing body, you have interests you’re trying to protect. You want to control what people believe. What’s changed is social media and the structure of communication between people. Now people have tremendous ability to shape who they interact with. Say you’re an anti-vaxxer. You find people online who are also anti-vaxxers and communicate with them rather than people who challenge your beliefs.
The other important thing is that this new structure means that all sorts of influencers—the Russian government, various industry groups, other government groups—have direct access to people. They can communicate with people in a much more personal way. They can pose on Twitter and Facebook as a normal person who you might want to interact with. If you look at Facebook in the lead up to the 2016 election, the Russian Internet Research Agency created animal-lovers groups, Black Lives Matter groups, gun-rights groups, and anti-immigrant groups. They could build trust with people who would naturally be part of these groups. And once they grounded that trust, they could influence them by getting them not to vote or by driving polarization, causing more extreme rhetoric. They can make other people trust them in ways that would have been very difficult without social media.
Weatherall: People tend to trust their friends, their family, people who they share other affinities with. So if the message can look like it’s coming from those people, it can be very effective. Another thing that’s become widespread is the ability to produce easily shareable visual media. The memes we see on Twitter or on Facebook don’t really say anything, they conjure up an emotion—an emotion associated with an ideology or belief you might have. It’s a type of misinformation that supports your beliefs without ever coming out and saying something false or saying anything.
The interview is here.