Imagine you are looking up some information — some news you heard that you want more data; you want to check the facts. So you get on the internet and you visit several sites. You want to be diligent and compare sources.
The sites you visit:
- they emphasize how they provide the “facts”,
- and they are presenting you with the “truth” and that
- you can then “decide” for yourself by using your “own critical skills.”
Carefully chosen words. Designed to make you feel fairly confident about the accuracy of information obtained.
Unfortunately, that may not be the case. As Kate Starbird’s study shows, you could be getting your information from “rumor-mills” sites. Some operated by botnets. Sophisticated, automated systems with the sole purpose of spreading rumors; or as Starbird calls them, “alternative naratives.”
Kate Starbird, “For more than three years, my lab at the University of Washington has conducted research looking at how people spread rumors online during crisis events.
For every man-made crisis event we studied, we found evidence of alternative narratives, often shared by some of the same accounts and connected to some of the same online sites.
The Role of Botnets in Amplifying Alternative Narratives
These data also provide insight into the effect of automated accounts (botnets) on the data. Closer analysis revealed many of these Twitter accounts to have similar profile descriptions and to use photos stolen from other people online.”
One very effective botnet (7436 tweets) it’s connected to many other domains and, Starbird says, “it’s bringing “real” accounts into its friend/following networks.”
Some of this information I’ve read about it before. But the professor got my full attention when she mentioned Pomerantsey and Weiss. Based on their research these strategies are not designed to convince. These disinformation strategies are designed to confuse.
Their strategic argument is that a society who learns it cannot trust information can be easily controlled.
Why do these types of sites even exist?
Because it caters to our anti — (you fill in the blank) feelings.
The good news: these sites are far outpaced by the anti-ignorance sites.
Let’s hope it stays that way.
Thanks for visiting.