In Fight Against Online Disinformation, A Variety of Tools Are Needed

Chris Doten from the National Democratic Institute has recent blog entry on online disinformation.  A summary of his short post:

  • Garbage in, garbage out – our democratic systems are dependent on the input of citizens, but when disinformation is also an input, the outputs of our processes can be deeply flawed – disinformation is about people; the manipulators and agitators who create it, and the citizens who consume it – basic categories of tools to detect and counter disinformation online are:
  • Network Analysis – mapping communities, clones and cults – understanding how accounts (which may or may not be people) coordinate is very important for trying to understand the spread of disinformation
  • Bad Bot Antidotes – bot detection, manufactured consensus, and the mob mentality – can’t tell an automated account from a person – not all bots are evil – manufactured consensus, if surrounded by other people saying and thinking the same thing, we assume it must be true – bots can amplify
  • Content Analysis – the sites that cried wolf – disinformation is spread via content and it is impossible to read a tweet on its own and know if it’s true or not – create a relative score on the *source* of content so one can see which accounts are more likely to be disseminating disinformation
  • Better Algorithms – algorithmic manipulation, or how to make viral sharing great again – when information goes viral, it shapes mass opinion – algorithms surface content that automated systems believe most want to see – manipulate those algorithms and disinformation can pop up to a wider audience – actually measures *intensity* of interest in a group, not how *widespread* interest is
  • More Insight – into the dark, encrypted places – more in-depth analysis requires having a research agreement with the platforms themselves which can be problematic (Cambridge Analytica) – end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms make research hard – detecting the spread of disinformation in under-the-radar spaces is difficult, and also hard to see the signs of rampant disinformation or citizen manipulation