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Fake news: How disinformation works

Ask the Russians or any other country

Fake news. Is that like true facts? Some people will argue that using “fake” with “news” is redundant. Others, thankfully, still believe that news gathering is a tried-and-true, fact-based profession.

But, alas, here comes the internet, where anyone can dump anything onto a website, blog, message board, Facebook or Instagram account and call it the truth because they wish it to be. Then there’s purposeful disinformation, used to manipulate, emanating from websites that camouflage themselves as news.

What exactly is disinformation? Well, there are countless definitions, but the Wikipedia post makes sense: Disinformation (Russian: dezinformatsiya and dezinformatsia) is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.

Of course, we had a heck of an election year, and disinformation was as abundant as nerds at a Star Wars premiere. But there’s method in the madness. Here’s a tactic relayed by Michael Sweeney in “Twenty-Five Ways To Suppress Truth: The Rules of Disinformation”:

Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. This is also known as the primary “attack the messenger” ploy, though other methods qualify as variants of that approach. Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as “kooks,” “right-wing,” “liberal,” “left-wing,” “terrorists,” “conspiracy buffs,” “radicals,” “militia,” “racists,” “religious fanatics,” “sexual deviates,” and so forth.

I guess we’ve seen a little bit of that (sarcasm inserted here).

This is a nifty process that’s been around a long time. Computer scientists call it “Fog Computing.” In a paper for DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the premiere research arm of the U.S. military, researchers say they’ve built “a prototype for automatically generating and distributing believable misinformation … and then tracking access and attempted misuse of it. We call this ‘disinformation technology.’”

Well, that was reported four years ago. I’m sure we have a computer sitting in some heavily protected, double-walled facility spitting out disinformation about me right now.

It’s ironic that many members of the press and Congress have looked accusingly at the Russians regarding their use of disinformation. Ha! Every legitimate country uses illegitimate information to throw off enemies, allies and even their own people. Think D-Day, for example.

The thing that seems to be frustrating politicians and media alike is how the internet is a no-holds-barred purveyor of just about everything, true or not. False allegations, fabricated stories, made-up events … these are now available to the many rather than a select few, who pass them on to like-minded people, who pass them on … it’s out of control, and it’s the new world order.

A lot has happened since Al Gore invented the internet. There’s no end to these falsehoods, and there’s little defense against them. But good luck, Mr. Zuckerberg.

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