Digital Deceit: The Technologies Behind Precision Propaganda on the Internet

Ghosh, Dipayan; Scott, Ben

Over the past year, there has been rising pressure on Facebook, Google and Twitter to account for how bad actors are exploiting their platforms. The catalyst of this so-called “tech-lash” was the revelation last summer that agents of the Russian government engaged in disinformation operations using these services to influence the 2016 presidential campaigns.

The investigation into the Russian operation pulled back the curtain on a modern Internet marketplace that enables widespread disinformation over online channels. Questionable digital advertisements, social media bots, and viral Internet memes carrying toxic messages have featured heavily in the news. But we have only begun to scratch the surface of a much larger ecosystem of digital advertising and marketing technologies. To truly address the specter of future nefarious interventions in the American political process, we need to broaden the lens and assess all of the tools available to online commercial advertisers. Disinformation operators in the future will replicate all of these techniques, using the full suite of platforms and technologies. These tools grow more powerful all the time as new advances in algorithmic technologies and artificial intelligence are integrated into the marketplace for digital marketing and advertising.