Political Propaganda was only the beginning…
Part 1 of a 3 Part Series
You may be familiar with disinformation as it relates to politics, but in today’s arena, the kinds of attacks involving disinformation go well beyond left versus right. When it comes to the United States, attacking the heart of profitable businesses is one of the critical areas of focus to wreak havoc on the country. Digital brand manipulation in the minds of the American people creates suspicion and doubt in the brands and companies they support and love.
What better way to add to the destruction of a country driven by free markets and capitalism than to crush the profit margins and instill a lack of trust in the very companies that act to fuel the economy?
The IRA (Internet Research Agency) for example, has been focused on campaigns of deceit and lies to reduce the credibility of a variety of corporations. They have well-planned strategies that can range from a single overt attack that reduces stock value all the way to a “death by a thousand cuts” strategy.
Social media is both the easiest and most influential weapon, and the IRA has made use of it in the U.S. to launch pilot disinformation.
IRA Targeting Brands and Companies
The methodology used by the IRA is to create a state of uncertainty, distrust, and fear for everything that seems to be the main pillars of the United States. When it comes to businesses, their attacks were both large and small; and can cover everything from the food that we eat to the products that we trust.
Around Thanksgiving in 2015, an account controlled by the IRA spread a fake report that people were dying from turkeys purchased at Walmart and supplied by Koch’s Turkey Farm. Koch’s had an established reputation of excellence in both the humane treatment of their animals and the quality of their products. The report went viral on social media and was eventually debunked as false. There were no food poisoning incidents, and the company didn’t even sell their turkeys to Walmart. This test was a fear-tactic to gauge how quickly and how severely Americans would react to these kinds of hoax claims, and their overall effectiveness.
Cyber Brand Destruction
Beyond the foreign interference involved in the massacre of brands and companies, there are also cyber hacks, invaders, celebrities, and people that just want to set the world on fire. Social media has become the weaponized tool of preference, and with a single tweet or post, an organization’s lifetime of work can be crushed. There have been several studies that have shown that Twitter has an influence on the stock market driving perception around announcements and acting as a force multiplier on rumors that can make or break a company.
In 2013, a voice processing company called Audience ($ADNC) became embroiled in a messy situation. A Twitter account called @MuddyWaters sent out a tweet that was a fake report about the company being investigated by the Department of Justice.
The stock for Audience plummeted 25%, even when the publisher of Muddy Waters sent out a tweet stating that the report was a hoax.
2016 saw the Associated Press’ main Twitter handle @AP hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army where they sent out a fake breaking news item. The reactions of the stock markets were instantaneously sharp.
In Early 2018, Kylie Jenner sent one tweet causing Snap ($SNAP) to lose a whopping $1.3 billion in market value.
The circulation of disinformation is successful because a majority of people seem to “believe” whatever they see on the net that they think looks like real news. Disinformation can cause irreversible damage to a company’s brand as well as wreak havoc on various elements of society. Besides trying to ruin a brand, it also acts as a constant maniacal destructive force against the trust that people have in a company.
Until recent years, brands large and small never had to face potential reputation shattering attacks that can occur almost instantly. Addressing these forms of cyberattacks were never included in standard disaster recovery. The results have been for corporations to establish new divisions that monitor brand sentiment, competitors, create research for market impact, and continuously track social media.
Who Is Responsible and What Actions Are Being Taken?
There are three specific groups we have identified as most harmful to brands in spreading disinformation, and each one has a particular agenda and purpose. The analysis of these three groups as stated below refer specifically to how they operate when attacking brands while their behaviors during political attacks are different.
TrollsThese are individuals often motivated by “spite” and will cause the destruction of companies based often on ideology alone. They don’t care about consequences, just revenge tactics and often compete on the most damaging campaigns on sites like 4chan and 8chan.
ProfiteersThis group is focused on financial gain and are called “profiteers.” These kinds of individuals have been around for many years, but the internet and social media have empowered them to receive immediate responses to their actions. These are well-orchestrated and planned cons that can have a tragic effect on stocks, jobs, and even the economy, while they profit from the lies and deception.
State ActorsThis group includes foreign influence operations that target specific private companies to destroy their reputation and profitability. This form of cyberattack can produce a shift or change in the world market as well as gains for their own countries.
These forms of disinformation warfare have run unchecked for the last few years, with corporations and the media scrambling to try to stop the hemorrhaging. The entire process has created its own momentum so that as fast as one is debunked, many more are launched.
The Global Alliance for Responsible Media
While members of the government slowly try to wrap their heads around the manipulation, disinformation, deceit, and lies that are permeating through every pore of our society, a group of the largest agencies and advertisers in the world are forging an alliance with Google, Facebook, and other media giants to launch an organization designed to improve the environment of digital media.
The Global Alliance for Responsible Media has the agenda to bring together a “collective power to significantly improve the health of the media ecosystem” and “to identify specific collaborative actions, processes, and protocols for protecting consumers and brands from safety issues.” The alliance has indicated that it’s “working towards a media environment where hate speech, bullying and disinformation is challenged, where personal data is protected and used responsibly when given, and where everyone, especially children, are better protected from harm.”
Some of the largest agency groups and media owners that have joined the organization have included: Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic, Publicis Groupe, Dentsu, NBCUniversal, and News Corp’s Unruly. Other trade bodies that have added their name include the U.S. World Federation of Advertisers, the Association of National Advertisers, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Advertisers have arrived from a broad spectrum of verticals including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Diageo, Mars, and Adidas.
Chief Executive of WPP, Mark Read, indicated that the formation of the group was significant because the ad industry has not gotten ahead of how “bad actors have been using online platforms.” Members of the alliance are gathering to meet to address the question of what more can they do to work together.
An agenda priority for the organization is to form and empower an inclusive group working together to be charged with the creation of initial ideas and follow through steps. Meetings will be held on a regular basis with progress reports supplied to all of the members and the industry.
There are almost 3.8 billion people online every day, and with an increasingly connected society, there is also an increase in hateful, disruptive, and fake online content that threatens the entire global community. The Global Alliance for Responsible Media intends to collaborate with platforms and publishers to do more in addressing the misleading and harmful media environments and in developing and delivering a set of actions, protocols, and processes, their efforts will be designed for the protection of brands.
We have entered an age when the technologies that we all use must offer additional layers of protection so that we can help to ensure that we win the battle against disinformation and its damaging and violent effects on society. People have an innate desire to receive accuracy and are becoming outraged at the idea that others are manipulating them for profit and personal agendas.
At Blackbird.AI, we believe that brands need a way to immediately identify what they are viewing and where it is originally sourced. We have a sophisticated AI and human-driven platform that offer automated evidence and validated proof for the topics, images, sites, and sources for suspicious disinformation. We work to “pre-bunk” to expose those who have ulterior motives and we aim to provide the same tools to governments and brands.
We know that censorship creates an entirely new monster that will slowly eat away at the freedoms of choice that is the basic foundation of our Democracy. Purveyors of disinformation, deepfake, false and misleading memes, and websites designed to harm will lose their ability to drive the narratives that they so eagerly desire. Each individual needs to have the ability to be in control and stop the manipulation.