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3 landmark tactics of psychological warfare on social media

It’s like we’re in the Cold War again.



psychological warfare tactics on social media
Credit: iStock

On August 18th, 2016, Katrina Pierson, a Trump spokeswoman, told MSNBC that Hillary Clinton had a rare brain disease called dysphasia, disabling her ability to properly communicate.

As part of a prodigious effort to distort Clinton’s well-being, her opposition didn’t end there.

A board-certified physician with over 36 years of experience came forward thereafter with a chilling allegation: Clinton also had Parkinson’s disease.

Both medical claims turned out to be false, but it didn’t stop the allegations from garnishing massive attention in the mainstream media and far-right news sites. The truth later came out that Clinton in fact only had a chronic cough associated with pneumonia — that’s all.

As you can see, certain news stories released to the public can strongly affect one’s perception within their environment. And even if it’s false, the information is still retained in the brain, possibly forever. Some may even still think it’s true, long after it has been disputed.

Why does fake news matter on the topic of psychological warfare? Well, because it’s one of the strongest weapons in an arsenal. It’s called disinformation and has been used in KGB propaganda playbooks. Disinformation is one of many warfare tactics that has been utilized by military and governments around the world.

Upon doing some research, I came up with three landmark psychological warfare tactics on social media. So without further interruption, let’s begin with bots and work our way up to disinformation.

1. Bots

In the present day, social media is the most powerful tool to get information out to the general public. Corporations, entertainers, news outlets and even state governments have all looked for ways to hack the system in an effort to achieve certain power over its users.

In March 2011, it was revealed to the public that the US military became fascinated enough to begin working on ways to manipulate it, The Guardian reported.

As Nick Fielding wrote for The Guardian:

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organizations to do the same.”

But the US (and the Israeli) military were not the only ones interested in getting their hands on bots for psychological operations.

Starting in 2012, countries in Asia opened their doors to ‘click farms,’ which is a fancy word for social media sweatshops — or Bangladeshi people with bad finger sores.

Actors within Asian countries have engaged in mass-clicking and the creation of shiny bots carrying thousands, if not more, of fake accounts.

As of 2017, Asia still holds all of the world’s most powerful social bots with India, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and China being the top countries, exactly in that order, based on recent data.

In the world of bots, the richest countries cash in on all the sweat and tears, while the poorest are the lucky ones to do all the work.

That means: India, Pakistan, and Malaysia are likely where the sweatshops operate. Russia and China, the richest countries, flash their cash around and leave the rest to do their dirty work for them, leaving almost no trace behind.

As to their manufacturing, Asian countries have relied on reverse engineering black market bots from strangers on several websites to understand them better and build stronger ones.

Moreover, engineering employees of social networking sites have also contributed to the creation of bots by giving away vital algorithms in exchange for big dollars.

One example was an alleged former Google employee named SpK, who would later go on to build one of the biggest YouTube view bots, subsequently earning him a temporary job at VEVO.

Nevertheless, however, once bots are built, they can be used for all sorts of purposes. We can only imagine what state governments are up to.

2. Scapegoating

(Left: Julian Assange, Right: Mike Pompeo)

Scapegoating is commonly seen in cyber warfare. In 2016, and throughout 2017, both the US and Russia have engaged in a never-ending clash of scapegoating.

Here’s one such example: According to WikiLeaks cables released on July 29th, 2017, Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor of Russiagate, might have colluded with the FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, over a visit to Moscow in 2009.

WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization, run by Julian Assange, rests its credibility on some of the world’s most sophisticated hackers linked to the Russian and Chinese government, in addition to American spies.

Mike Pompeo, the CIA chief, once called WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence agency,” created by a narcissist with a goal to use classified documents to make a name for himself; Assange’s actions are nothing more than scapegoating.

Moreover, WikiLeaks not only publishes classified information, but it also publishes disinformation. During the final hours of the 2016 US Presidential election, the internet lit up with propaganda by WikiLeaks, prompting a response in form of DDOS attacks to protect late voting.

And since we’re on the topic of disinformation, let’s talk about that.

3. Disinformation

(Margaret Howell, former Moscow-based RT reporter, on Infowars in 2016)

During the Cold War, ‘fake news’ had a different name: ‘Soviet disinformation.’ False stories against the US were printed out in pro-Soviet newspapers around the world. However, the Soviets were not the only ones attempting to manipulate news organizations.

In the 1950s, the CIA became interested in recruiting journalists from widely-respected US newspapers. Soon after, the CIA had a major influence over many newspapers and wire agencies, as Carl Bernstein wrote for Rolling Stone.

But why so much urgency to control news organizations?

Well, during the Cold War, reporters from outside the Soviet Union began receiving money from Moscow in order to promote Communist causes. Known as “The Family Jewels” or “Project Mockingbird,” many thought the cycle of fake news came to an end after the Cold War.

But then, Donald Trump ran for office. It’s 2017, and things are probably not much different. It appears that Russia’s disinformation influence made its way to the US via fear-mongering news cells.

Infowars, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller, just to name a few, all tactically inject fear, paranoia, and anxiety to their audiences on a daily basis, making them almost submissive to their propaganda.

It’s almost like we’re in the Cold War again.


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