An experiment on the unconscious effects of Disinformation
•Fake news and disinformation can covertly modify the behavior of individuals.
•It can do this by manipulating implicit attitudes and emotions.
•Current mitigation methods do not prevent behavior modification.
•It is urgent to address this threat to democracy and individual autonomy.
A growing literature is emerging on the believability and spread of disinformation, such as fake news, over social networks. However, little is known about the degree to which malicious actors can use social media to covertly affect behavior with disinformation.
A lab-based randomized controlled experiment was conducted with 233 undergraduate students to investigate the behavioral effects of fake news. It was found that even short
(under 5-min) exposure to fake news was able to significantly modify the unconscious behavior of individuals. This paper provides initial evidence that fake news can be used to covertly modify behavior, it argues that current approaches to mitigating fake news, and disinformation in general, are insufficient to protect social media users from this threat, and it highlights the implications of this for democracy. It raises the need for an urgent cross-sectoral effort to investigate, protect against, and mitigate the risks of covert, widespread and decentralized behavior modification over online social networks.
The limitations of the human brain are also to blame.
When people are overloaded with new information, they tend to rely on less-than-ideal coping mechanisms to distinguish good from bad, and end up privileging popularity over quality.
For those of you who think you are unaffected by false information or would know if misinformation was influencing your behavior, guess again‼️
? Several studies have shown that disinformation, even the slightest amount, can affect your unconscious behavior in very subtle ways.
? Misinformation can also influence your reasoning and decision-making resulting in poor judgment.
? Because of the way our brain operates, even when misinformation we have been exposed to is corrected with factual information, we often continue to be biased towards misinformation. It’s what psychologists refer to as the “continued influence effect”.
The Geopolitics of Information
The New Great Game – Information as a Source of Power
Throughout history, humanity has relied on different critical resources. Oil was one such resource, which spurred economic growth, as well as conflicts over access and control.
Today, as The Economist argued , data is the new oil. It is at the core of modern developments, and is increasingly shaping political and economic lives.
As more data is stored and processed digitally, the governance of this data is having an impact on diplomacy, just as the politics of oil has been doing over the past 100 years.
Information is now the world’s most consequential & contested geopolitical resource. The world’s most profitable businesses have asserted for years that data is the “new oil.”
Political campaigns—and foreign intelligence operatives—have shown over the past two American presidential elections that data-driven social media is the key to public opinion.
Leading scientists and technologists understand that good datasets, not just algorithms, will give them a competitive edge. Data-driven innovation is not only disrupting economies and societies; it is reshaping relations between nations.
The pursuit of information power—involving states’ ability to use information to influence, decide, create and communicate—is causing states to rewrite their terms of engagement with markets and citizens, and to redefine national interests and strategic priorities.
In short, information power is altering the nature and behavior of the fundamental building block of international relations, the state, with potentially seismic consequences.
Information is more important to world affairs today than at any previous point in history as a result of recent advances in data-driven technologies.
These advances have revolutionized each of the four key facets of information power: to influence the political and economic environment of other actors; to create economic growth and wealth; to enable a decision-making edge over competitors; and to communicate quickly and securely.
The rising economic and political importance of information is impacting states’ policy choices and priorities and, in turn, how they wield power, compete and prepare for conflict in the 21st century.
There are four ways that the rising importance of information has ushered in an era in which information geopolitics drives world affairs.
Writing in Foreign Affairs Magazine in 1998 about the rising geopolitical significance of information, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye9 drew a distinction between three types of information: free, commercial, and strategic.
They defined free information as the personal information individuals willingly gave up in online interactions; while commercial information such as intellectual property (IP) was only relevant to businesses.
Only one narrow category of information— “strategic information” such as state secrets—would be of interest to governments, and relevant to world affairs.
Today, the categories set out by Keohane and Nye are blurring. Every piece of information now has the potential to be strategic. The Strategic importance of business IP to governments today is relatively self-evident.
The same advancements in machine learning that enable Facebook to better recognize your friends and tag them in photos can be adapted by militaries to identify and target combatants.
The self-driving algorithms that pilot a Tesla can be adjusted to operate an autonomous tank. Significantly, it is not just commercial software that states have an interest in. Raw data held by myriad types of corporate entities also has strategic value.
Machine learning is now at a stage of development that a technical wunderkind is no longer needed to write a good learning algorithm.
Instead, what developers most require are troves of high-quality data to train and optimize algorithms over time.
Data about the natural and built environments, as well as human behavior and psychology held by logistics, health, manufacturing, financial services and consumer goods companies will train the algorithms that empower states to dominate the physical, electronic and intellectual terrain of the future.
As a result, states have a strong interest in accessing (or stealing) the commercial information that Keohane and Nye once classified as relatively disconnected from geopolitics.
Personal information can also be strategically significant. The personal lives of political and military leaders have always been of interest to spies and saboteurs.
But these activities have historically been limited by the need for human operatives to collect and interpret intelligence.
Digitization has dramatically increased the breadth and depth of information available to intelligence agents.
Fitbits, GPS-linked phones, Internet-connected pacemakers and myriad other devices weave a rich tapestry that in the wrong hands can be used to blackmail, discredit or outwit decision-makers.
In 2018, state-sponsored hackers targeted and successfully stole the Singaporean Prime Minister’s digital health records, for purposes as of yet unrevealed.
Moreover, with computers now able to make sense of huge datasets, all people linked to the government, not just senior leaders, are potential foreign intelligence targets.
In 2015, China hacked into the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, stealing sensitive personal information on four million people who had undergone U.S. Government security checks—acquiring a tremendous resource for espionage and future blackmail and influence operations.
States also have a strategic interest in acquiring information about foreign private citizens. Information about an individual’s emotional state, beliefs, preferences, and social relationships can be used to influence how they think and act.
At a domestic level, political campaigns invest heavily in personal information about voters and use data analytics software to micro-target their campaign messages.
Google and Facebook have built two of history’s most successful business empires based on their ability to harvest and monetize consumers’ personal information in order to change online behavior and real-world decisions.
Of course, if democratic political parties and companies can use personal information to change citizens’ beliefs and decisions, so too can states.
In its disinformation campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russia used social media information to identify and then target those people who were most vulnerable to its divisive narratives.
[For example, Russian operatives pushed divisive content to Facebook users who had previously “liked” posts related to race, or who belonged to groups either supporting or opposing the Black Lives Matter movement.]
The coming wave of AI research will help computers to interact with humans in increasingly “natural” and persuasive ways, at scale and in real-time.
As a result, computational propaganda is likely to become a more prevalent, and potent, tool of state influence, and everyday citizens’ personal information—once of scant relevance to world affairs—will become an even more strategically valuable resource.
“The Geopolitics of Information”
By – Eric Rosenbach & Katherine Mansted ,2019