Media disinformation happens when people are intentionally targeted by media content created to widen political, social, and cultural differences among Americans.
Until the Western world learned that Russian conspirators were actively trying to sway America’s 2016 presidential election, the thought that social media would be used to actively divide a people had never occurred to most users.
In fact, Russia’s playbook required that huge populations never saw them coming at all. It wasn’t just America that was targeted, Europe and the UK were also heavily bombarded.
Russian Playbook Now in the Hands of the World
Whether or not Russian agents acted alone in the 2016 debacle is hard to know, but what’s not hard to know at all is that other bad actors are now on the field. According to a joint investigation between Twitter and Facebook, Iranian agents are now active on the scene, as well.
Because many important elections are coming up across the globe in nations like India and the Ukraine, as well as on-going and hotly contended elections like the one in Venezuela, it’s vital to the survival of social media that they learn how to identify and squash Russian-style (or Russian-led) disinformation campaigns.
The Problem Goes Deep
America’s 2018 midterm elections were a litmus test for Twitter and Facebook alike.
They found a problem that was so deeply ingrained in the system that Twitter claims it now challenges 8 to 10 million suspicious accounts each week, according to reporting by The New York Times.
Twitter says it still finds accounts that lead back to the Russian disinformation effort. It removed 418 of them between October 2018 and December 2018. Twitter initially purged 3,843 accounts that had ties to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm that started it all.
While it may look like the Russian social media blitz is over, it’s definitely not time for anyone to let their guard down. Iran has picked up the torch dropped by Russia and is working to sway hearts and minds across the Middle East, Asia and Europe. So far, Facebook has removed 793 pages, groups and accounts linked to Iran; Twitter dumped 2,617 accounts tied to Iran.
Like Russia, Iran appears to be looking to create strong alliances and divisions among everyone they can reach, pushing pro-Iranian stances, encouraging pro-Palestinian views, as well as conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US.
Rooting Out the Weeds
Now that Russia has shown other countries how easy it can be to manipulate the general public using social media, this is a problem that won’t just go away on its own. Twitter and Facebook have to remain vigilant in order to preserve the things most closely associated with democracy, like free elections, reasonable debates over issues and, maybe most importantly, the ethical, unbiased press.