Federal cybersecurity officials warn that Russia has taken steps to meddle in this year’s presidential election and some of the efforts appear to favor President Donald Trump. They said the online disinformation campaigns are similar to those launched during the 2016 presidential race.
With campaigns trying to ferret out disinformation fom Russia and others, one question may be worth asking: What does a disinformation campaign look like?
1. Look for divisions
The impact of Russian disinformation on the 2016 presidential election is hard to quantify, but it was possible because of existing ideological divides among the population.
“The first step is to look for fissures in societies that can be exploited,” said Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, a think tank focused on international issues. “The best disinformation is grounded in a kernel of truth. So it’s not going to be something that’s completely false and doesn’t ring true… It’s stuff that is rooted in real misgivings that people have.”
2. Use fake social media accounts to exploit real social unrest
Findings from special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation earlier this year revealed that Russia’s Internet Research Agency reached over 126 million Americans in 2016 through Facebook alone.
Nicolas Arpagian, vice president of strategy at Orange Cyberdefense in France, said this came from the sense of connection people can find online.
“It’s based on community,” he said. “If I’m looking for a subject, I will be connected by people with an interest in the same kind of subject.”
3. Use information, both real and fake, to sow discord
The point of disinformation campaigns isn’t necessarily to sway political contests one way or the other, but to erode public confidence in institutions and government.
“Destabilization is the goal,” Jankowicz said. “As soon as we are turned inward, focused on our own problems, we’re going to be paying a lot less attention to what actors like Russia, China, and Iran are doing on a global stage.”