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Digital Media Literacy

How Mis/Disinformation Spreads

Overview for this sub-section:
We know that fake news is not likely to check verified news sources.  They use facts from verified news and layer it with misinformation.  When confronted by both the fake news and verified news, people tend to discount the misinformation and the facts.  That's the power of fake news.  

Additionally, most adults use social media to get their news.  Columbia Journalism Review reports that 30% of fake news can be linked back to Facebook while only 8% of verified news is linked from Facebook.  There are fewer fake news sources than verified news sources but with social media, their reach is that much more pronounced. 

The Role of Bots and Trolls
Per a 2017 study in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, the purveyors of bots and trolls typically do not seek a specific outcome; rather, they deploy them to sow chaos, confusion, and paranoia in order to disruptinstitutions great and small.  They typically can be found in online message boards and social media outlets and can be deployed in a variety of situations.

  • What is a troll?:  Internet trolling is a behavior in which users post derogatory or false messages in a public forum such as a message board, newsgroup, or social media.  The purpose of trolling is to provoke others into displaying emotional responses or to normalize tangential discussion for either amusement or personal gain.  (Sources: PC Magazine online encyclopedia, Indiana University Information Technology Services).
  • What is a Bot?:  A Twitter bot is a type of automated software that controls a Twitter account.  Automation of such accounts is governed by a set of rules governing use.  Improper usage includes circumventing automation rate limits, a key indicator of nefarious bot behavior.
    • Spot the Bot:  Experts use multiple criteria to judge whether a particular Twitter account is a bot.  Learn to recognize some key telltale signs!
      • Activity -  How many posts per day have been generated by the account?  The Oxford Internet Institute's Computational Propaganda team views an average of 50 posts a day as suspicious.
      • Suspicious pattern of likes/retweets: - very high number of likes/retweets vs. original posts, often in quantities that are very close.
      • High number of account followers, low number of account followers.

Source: Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab

  • Signal Boosting:  Artificial amplification of media content is a cause for concern because it can make it relatively easy to manipulate mass opinion, which in turn can have disastrous effects on the stability of democratic systems of governance. 
  • Astroturfing: Per behavioral scienctist Caroline Orr, an "astroturfed" social media campaign is a coordinated effort to sway public opinion in a particular direction by manipulating people's online behavior on multiple media outlets.  Such campaigns typically consist of the following tactics:
    • exploiting online algorithms to amplify certain content and push it onto people's social media feeds and to the top of search engine results
    • using a high volume of tweets to drown out real, reasoned debate between humans and replace it with false content that pushes fringe or extreme viewpoints into the mainstream, ultimately hijacking and derailing public discourse
    • using divisive issues to widen existing cultural divides and promote infighting within a particular movement
    • creating "manufactured consensus," or the illusion of popularity, so that an idea or position without much public support appears more popular and mainstream than it actually is

             Astroturf campaign tactics push a specific message into public debate by artificial means, resulting in:

  • coverage of the issue as a "trending topic" on both social media and traditional media outlets
  • specific words or phrases show up as a "suggested search terms" or hashtags in web and social media searches
  • feedback loops in which suggested search terms attract users who follow and participate in current social media trends

The Role of Social Media in the Spread of Disinformation (NPR podcast)

Assess State-Sponsored News Websites

Hamilton 2.0 is a website developed by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative that works to publicly document and expose the ongoing efforts by Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian regimes to subvert democracy in the United States, Europe, and globally. Site users can view snapshots of Twitter bot traffic and view hot topics/hashtags and trending domains and URLs.

Further Reading

More on Misinformation/Disinformation

Last updated on Jun 3, 2024 2:24 AM