Fake news is a real problem, but not in the way our thin-skinned president attempts to discredit real news he doesn’t like. Actual fake news is a disturbing tactic used by hostile foreign powers (specifically Russia) in an attempt to sew misinformation and cause societal rifts that can actually disrupt an election. There is literally a fake news group called the “Internet Research Agency” in Russia whose job it is to create misinformation and distribute it across social media channels. They call this “influence operations.”
Here’s how it works in five steps.
- Create a government propaganda agency. Except you can’t call it that because you need plausible deniability. Instead, call it the “Internet Research Agency.” Yeah, nobody will guess that is actually the Ministry of Propaganda. Cool.
- Hire as many as 1,000 well-paid bloggers and commenters. One thousand. Pumping out content all day. Every day. Faster than anyone can fact check it.
- Take all that BS and spray it all over the Internet. Fake blogs, hoax news sites, fake social media accounts.
- Get bots and other fake accounts to retweet and amplify these posts to make them look legit. “Hey, NOTARUSSIANBOT_DEFINTELYAMERICANPATRIOTMAGA-GUY45 has 3,472 followers and his tweet about Hillary’s pizza shop pedophile ring has 6,000 retweets! Must be true! Where there’s smoke, there’s fire—AMIRITE?”
- Give the commenters (professional trolls) a quota to go on websites like Fox News and Huffington Post and just troll the living hell out of the comments section, maybe 50 comments on news articles per day. Their goal? Stir up strife, dissent. Make people question the truth. Make normal, reasonable people so exasperated they give up fighting falsehoods.
It’s estimated these efforts reached 150 million people through Facebook and Instagram, and it isn’t just Hillary Clinton that was targeted. Before 2016 these same tactics were used against Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Also, we’re pretty sure this is all financed by one of Putin’s rich buddies. And by we, I mean the CIA. Do the math here. Why on earth would Putin want to create fake news to influence the democracy and sew civil discourse in it’s most powerful rival? Gosh, I don’t see what you’re getting at here, they have nothing to gain by getting Americans to hate each other and question what is even true. Can we go back to talking about Hillary’s pedophile pizza shop?
The problem isn’t just that there is a hostile foreign government engaging in this activity. The real problem is that people are stupid and believe this crap. Then they share it. Then they’re allowed to vote. Two years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you’d have told me I would personally know multiple people who believed the Earth was flat, but here we are. Flat-Earthers.
Fun fact: all the flat-Earthers I know voted for Trump. Draw your own conclusions from that.
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Dave Skorepa is Chief Creative Officer at Aztek Web in Cleveland, Ohio.