While Zoom might seem to be bowing to the Chinese government and shutting down accounts that were violating local laws, the fake news tweeting from China has triggered Twitter to track three major state-backed networks pushing propaganda for China, Russia, and Turkey. The Chinese network was the largest, with 170,000 Twitter accounts.
Age of Information
Information warfare isn’t new, but it has gotten a little bit more subtle than pamphlets dropping from the sky. While information that falls from the sky has its place in remote areas, the advancement of the smartphone and the internet has created a new opportunities and challenges for influencing public opinions. The Kardashians can seem to garner a following overnight living the fake celebrity reality life for the world to watch. So, how do governments use platforms like Twitter to promote ideas?
China’s Twitter Accounts’ Target Audiences
Although Twitter is blocked in China, the country still found it in their best interest to create over 20,000 accounts to push fake news about Hong Kong protests and COVID-19. They also then created 150,000 accounts that were used to trumpet the message more. Twitter claims that the accounts were “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China” which was a violation of the platforms manipulation policies.
According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the targets for the campaign were China’s overseas connections or citizens “in an effort to exploit their capacity to extend the party-state’s influence.” The Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), part of the team analyzing the accounts, said, “”Narratives around Covid praise China’s response to the virus while tweets also use the pandemic to antagonize the U.S. and Hong Kong activists.”
China Protests the Shutdown
China has questioned the removal of their accounts. The best defense is usually to go on the offense, and China does just that. (This isn’t the first time – they did something similar with post-coronavirus propaganda).
“If Twitter really wants to do something they should shut those coordinated and organized accounts that attack and smear China,” said Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the ministry. “China is the largest victim of disinformation, [and] we are against the spreading of disinformation.”
Twitter shutdown 936 accounts in 2019 for China because the tweets were intended to sow political discord in Hong Kong. While fake news is not necessarily being monitored, Twitter is working to enforce its policy on platform manipulation and spam. Twitter states, “You may not use Twitter’s services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter.”
Misinformation, Deepfakes, and AI
We have the field of intelligence in order to discover true facts of the real events around the world. Adversaries will continually seek to spread and amplify misinformation. While some deepfakes are for fun, the reality is that it is just another item in a long line to manipulate information, obscure the truth, and advance agendas. To stay ahead of the curve, Facebook has even launched a ‘Deepfake Detection Challenge.’ It turns out that in order to watch something, you need to find the people with the capabilities.
While artificial intelligence (AI) has been helpful in creating deepfakes, we still have a ways to go in the detection arena. Put deepfakes together with Twitter accounts aimed at creating propaganda, and it seems like social media platforms may have more of a battle to fight than they imagined when they created their sites. But when it comes to the intelligence world, it’s a battle worth fighting.
Information Warfare Jobs
Joining in the fight against disinformation can either be a subtle component of every cleared job or an active role with specific military or contractor positions. Whether we want to call it psychological operations (PSYOP) or military information support operations (MISO), the goal for the United States is the same: conduct operations to influence the behaviors of foreign audiences. If going on the offense in information warfare isn’t your style, perhaps working on the defense team is a better fit. Whether your skillset is slated for creating detection tools at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) or you are a better fit for detecting threats in a cyber career at the National Security Agency (NSA), the jobs are out there.
Bottom line in the cleared world: disinformation is a threat to our political, military, and economic worlds, and it is a battle worth fighting.