Understanding Disinformation Operations in the 21st Century
Defending Democracies: Combating Foreign Election Interference in a Digital Age (Duncan B. Hollis & Jens David Ohlin, eds., OUP), 2021, Forthcoming
40 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2021
Date Written: December 29, 2020
Remarkable developments in digital technologies have provided the conditions for a dramatic rise in State-sponsored disinformation operations crossing international borders. Spreading 'dezinformatsiya' has a long history, but today it is done with a volume and accuracy that has left the targeted societies deeply destabilized as facts and events become sharply contested among citizens. This chapter is a descriptive work illustrating the essential components of this activity and draws three important conclusions. First, because disinformation aims to twist the truth in subtle ways when key facts remain secret and unavailable, exposing an operation becomes a tedious and difficult task. Second, the new digital world has opened the door to omnipresent operations that occur below the threshold of armed conflict and are accelerated exponentially by big data warehousing and algorithms that allow individualized targeting during an election cycle. Third, when disinformation operations disrupt the flow of information during a political campaign, the candidates involved and the process itself emerge with a dangerously eroded legitimacy. With a view to filling in critical missing data, the chapter ends with a clarion call to allow access for social scientists to study in detail what is happening in the opaque public square of online social media where ever more political understanding is being fashioned.
Keywords: disinfo-ops, disinformation, big data, micro-targeting, legitimacy, data access
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