Repressive regimes are making ever more use of aggressive social media techniques to silence critics or exert control over vulnerable populations, reports Axios' Sara Fischer.
Why it matters: General lack of oversight of social media makes it easy for those in power to influence populations without being detected — or at least not until after damage is done.
Driving the news: The latest alleged incident, reported by the New York Times and covered in yesterday's Login, is of Saudi-backed troll farms inundating journalists (like the late Jamal Khashoggi) with hateful messages and threats of violence in an effort to silence them.
- In Myanmar, a UN-backed fact-finding mission found that members of the Myanmar military used Facebook as a tool in the government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Rohingya population.
- In Brazil, businessmen allegedly linked to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro have been bankrolling a campaign to spread misinformation in support of the leading far-right presidential candidate by spamming users with fake news via WhatsApp, per the Washington Post.
- In Mexico, several political parties used bots and fake accounts in an attempt to influence the presidential election in July. Pro-government bots have been used for years in Mexican politics to silence activists.
Russia and Iran are leveraging social media to undermine stability or elections in other nations.
- Last week, the Justice Department charged a Russian national with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., including crimes related to interference in the 2018 midterms via social media.
- New data released last week from Twitter shows that Russian trolls sent thousands of pro-Brexit messages the day of Britain's referendum on EU membership.
- A Reuters investigation this summer found that the Iranian influence operation, originally identified on Facebook and then Google, Twitter and Reddit, was actually targeting internet users across a network of anonymous websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages.
Facebook and Twitter have taken action in nearly all of these instances, some of which were first uncovered by third parties or reporters.
- But often groups will use various tactics, like spreading social media bot attacks across hundreds of seemingly-unrelated accounts and platforms, so that it's harder to track their actions in real time.
What's next? Even democratic regimes are not immune to this type of abuse, argues Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University.
In the U.S., Grygiel argues, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent agency, was engaging in domestic propaganda through the purchase of Facebook ads for some of its European channels that were targeted to U.S. users. That's in violation of a law meant to prohibit domestic propaganda.
"My most immediate concern is here in the United States. The Facebook discovery makes me wonder what else is not being managed around our own government's potential use of communications systems for propaganda here in this country."— Jennifer Grygiel
Go deeper: Sara has more here.