In this article we take a look at how Putin’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) games social media to give their disinformation stories the veneer of legitimacy.
Think of it as a big pinball game. The ball is the fabricated news story. This is truly fake news. It isn’t a mistake. It isn’t an opinion piece. It is intentionally false information written to look and sound like a news article. Someone in a cubicle at the Internet Research Agency spends their days writing these articles.
The ball of disinformation is sent to bounce around the internet. Raking up the appearance of legitimacy points as it ricochets around the interwebs. Another cubicle dweller posts the article a website designed to look like a news website or an expert’s blog.
Next the gaming of social media begins. A web of postings and repostings are set into motion to give the appearance many people are talking about this story. Bots share the link en mass. Trolls share the link and engage in online conversations pushing the talking point. Russian state media RT and Sputnik post “it has been reported” articles and post these to social media. The bots and trolls amplify their social posts and links to their articles.
With the appearance of so many “people” talking about a story a hungry Western journalist looking for a scoop often picks up the story – either mistakenly helping propagate the disinformation, or attempting to debunk the story, which studies show often backfires and helps spread a story. In any case the disinformation has made it into the news cycle.
Debunked or not it has now muddied information stream. Meanwhile, the original posting on the “news” site often quietly disappears.
Play Fake News Pinball
A recent study revealed that when people have the opportunity to try out deceptive information dissemination techniques they tend to be less likely to be duped by them.
Cambridge researchers put together this fun little game. The goal is to collect the most followers (points) by using disinformation techniques. You have to think like an evil troll to win. To make it more fun get a group of friends to play and find out who among you is the most evil internet mastermind.
Some Examples of Fake News Pinball
DFRLab: A Case Study in How Russia’s Propaganda Machine Works – The Digital Forensics Lab tracks the Internet Research Agency’s disinformation campaign against Morgan Freeman.
DFRLab: #PutinAtWar: Russia’s Troll Diplomacy – A case study of Russia’s social media response to the UK’s response to the Skripak poisoning. Note how much heavy lifting the Russian embassies contribute to this disinformation campaign.