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Stay alert for disinformation in 2020

2020-02-26 Source:The Daily Times Author:Mark Harmon

We barely are into 2020, but already discoveries in late  2019 point to a dangerous year of disinformation ahead of us. We will need to be  sharp and careful readers not to fall prey to deliberately false information —  messages designed to misinform, divide and distract us. 


Mark Harmon 

Take the case of TheSoul Publishing as revealed by Lisa  Kaplan on Lawfare last month. She noted the firm is behind a number of innocuous  arts and crafts videos, but also at that time offered “pro-Russian versions of  histories that contain inaccurate information.” She also wrote, “Measured in  terms of views and subscribers, it had the third-largest reach of any group of  entertainment channels on YouTube in November — outranked only by Disney and  WarnerMedia. It is run by Russian nationals and based in and managed from  Cyprus, with U.S. operations housed in a shared work space in New York. It funds  itself with ad revenues from YouTube and Google worth tens of millions of  dollars. And in 2018, it purchased a small suite of Facebook advertisements  targeting U.S. citizens on political issues — and it made those purchases in  rubles.” 

TheSoul now says it will suspend its histories; it is  worth watching what becomes of both this provider and its content. Another large  provider of concern is The Epoch Times, a Chinese-American offshoot of Falun  Gong, a pro-Trump outlet also opposed to the Chinese government. Its politics  are not a problem; its penchant for misinformation-laden claims is what got it  banned from buying ads on Facebook. 

The fact-checking organization Snopes has shown links  between The BL (The Beauty of Life), an operation with an immense Facebook  presence, and Epoch Times. As 2019 drew to a close, Facebook shut down more than  900 fake accounts, groups and pages, many with artificial intelligence-generated  profiles. Epoch Times, as noted by National Public Radio, was “behind the  sophisticated misinformation campaign.” 

Facebook, owner of Instagram, in October shut down 50  Instagram accounts it had linked to a Russian influence campaign from the  Kremlin-linked troll factory, the Internet Research Agency. Viral video memes,  harder to trace than text disinformation, may be the forum of greatest concern  for 2020.