Is there a better mousetrap?
Now that Hillary Clinton was just interviewed on Howard Stern, and with the whole controversy about Ukraine, we continue to have this discussion about foreign interference in U.S. elections. Was it Ukraine? Was it Russia? Is it now China? Iran?
A wonderful article in The Wall Street Journal (October 25) by Sarah Needleman reported on the latest tactics involving disinformation via social media.
Long before the Internet, the pioneers of disinformation, and arguably the origins of the term, were propagandists for the Kremlin. In the Soviet Union, communist operatives within the highest levels of the government, operating under the notorious Politburu, which essentially ran things, without any checks and balances, strategized on what version of reality they wanted to send to the world.
Thus, before the creation, much less the growth of the Internet, Soviet operatives used newspapers, columnists and intermediaries to spread false information – in some cases, the exact opposite of the facts. Their motives were to shape media coverage, affect the political environment, and precipitate decisions – the wrong decisions – by their rivals.
In the New Age of social media, the stakes are much higher- -because what we call “disinformation” and some call “fake news” can spread with exponential effect. And consider when one person inadvertently spreads disinformation to his or her friends. They accept the credibility of that person as their “friend” on social media; in reality, that person has no reason to validate what is really disinformation.
We saw during the continuing Hong Kong disturbances that the Chinese were using robots or “bots” to send out disinformation over social media. Other nations that are totalitarian or authoritarian also use public social media to send out not a different viewpoint, but false information.
With things heating up in Hong Kong and in Iran, the Internet in general and social media in particular can play a role in getting information to the dissenters and protestors and also letting others know of their demonstrations and protests. Social media can be a force for good.
In the United States there has been much focus on foreign interference in the 2016 election. While no serious observer suggests the election result would have been different, the controversy remains. Some Americans are so confused they think the Russians hacked into election counting systems in different states or counties. Others speculate about dubious claims that false information on public social media shaped or affected electoral opinion.
What can we do about all this?
Much of what Facebook or other public social media outlets do, if they do anything at all, is after the fact.
Is there a better way?
For the last several years my colleagues have created a way to monitor public social media in real time. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the platform that we created has the capability to source to identify or source foreign intrusion and even interdict it.
There is so much at stake. How do you quantify in dollars and legitimacy and credibility of an American election? It’s time for the U.S. government to do everything it can to make the election of 2020 a shining example of democracy.
With all the talk and concern about election interference in the coming election, isn’t it time we start now setting counter-measures in motion?