Wherever you may lie on the political continuum, foreign interference is a reality that we must accept in this election cycle. Let’s not be passive participants on social media.
Before sharing that post, ask yourself if you recognize that person or organization. Vladimir Putin wants to be your friend on Facebook? No thanks.
We get it, Americans are already tired of this political season. However, the worst is yet to come (in a campaign sense). From the repetitive commercials to the 2,000 flyers you will collect in your mailbox – elections can be exhausting. Just when you think that politicians have infiltrated every aspect of your personal space, they are shifting their focus to online marketing through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and whatever other platform you can imagine. Name it, and they are running paid advertisements. This election cycle is historic because of the unprecedented levels of cash going toward social media marketing, and the team at Wave Media thought it would be best to brace you for impact.
Political advertisements are inevitable, akin to the Lions losing the game, any game, in a matter of the last three minutes. Sorry, Stafford. Also unavoidable? Foreign interference on our newsfeed. Yep, we went there.
Overseas intrusion is not a new concept in our democracy. In fact, NPR predicts that this was a problem far before the 2016 election and is still very prevalent in 2020. Most prominently, the Russian, Iranian and Chinese governments have been launching cyberattacks on countries they wish to influence for years, and the United States is no stranger to these assaults. Russian cyberfarms have stolen massive amounts of personal data and have disrupted state and local governments. Please note: U.S. Officials do not believe any votes were altered, however, it is clear that voters’ minds were compromised online.
For example, the New York Times reported that a 2018 Senate Intelligence Committee report detailed sweeping Russian operations of African-American, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, pro-gun activists, anti-gun activists, and more were specifically targeted to sow deep divisions and falsehoods in order to alienate and confuse voters about the candidacies of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. These reports were able to tie the thousands of misinformation campaigns straight back to the Russian Internet Research Agency, that would utilize massive platforms such as Facebook or Instagram to get millions of interactions or even small platforms like Vine, LiveJournal, or even Pokémon Go to sway constituents.
So, our adversaries are in the misinformation business – now what? Well, social media executives, like Mark Zuckerberg who may have an assigned seat on Capitol Hill now, have pledged to spend bookoo bucks on algorithms to try and catch meddling before posts gain millions of views. But is that enough? We don’t think so. In true American fashion, individuals need to educate themselves about how this trolling occurs and take matters into their own hands.
Clemson University, NOT LSU, researchers have studied the tactics and patterns of the Russian Internet Research Agency and have concluded that the efforts are analogous to guerilla warfare in that the misinformation will come in waves with no end in sight. The researchers found that voters are first introduced to a concept that they might like, retweet, and decide to follow that account for similar content. Over time, once the voter has followed and taken a liking to the account, Russian trolls will increase the level of the dramatized or fake content to entrench the ideology or whatever agenda they want to push. Whether it be that “Obama banned the pledge allegiance in schools” or “Trump is offering free trips to Mexico” Russian trolls are working to create divides in our democracy via slow burn.
Ok, so we’ve got an idea how this misinformation comes about. Now what? Consider asking yourself the following questions before you like, repost, retweet, share, or follow an account of a stranger or unfamiliar organization:
What or who is this account producing this content?
Is this real content?
Unsure? Why don’t you give it a quick search on Google before you blast the content into the social atmosphere?
Why am I seeing this? Could an algorithm be targeting me?
Also, please lock down your privacy settings. If you’re not Kanye West or Tom Brady, we don’t need to see your every move online.
Want to learn more about tightening your profile’s security? Contact Ryan, our social media bouncer, today to learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org.