Breaking Bad: The Power of 140 Characters
A little noticed news story this week caught my eye and caused me to
reflect again upon information warfare as a growing concern in today's world.
Second Twitter hoax in two days smacks another stock
Two companies fell victim in the last two days to hoaxes on Twitter,
temporarily causing their stock prices to take a nosedive. In each of
the cases, Twitter accounts impersonating trading firms made false
accusations about each of the companies - one tweeting false allegations
of a DOJ investigation for fraud, the other, false reports of an FDA
investigation over "doctored" drug trial results.
The story reminded me of previous breaches and impersonation
of news outlets' social media accounts, in which false information was
disseminated under the shield of legitimate news organizations to lend
the disinformation credibility.
As activists, many of our readers have likely also found themselves
targets of similar disinformation campaigns on an individual basis.
There are bad actors who wish to suppress opposing viewpoints or
discredit productive members of a movement they oppose. Such tactics
range in scope from merely annoying to damaging - the menu of typical dirty tricks has frequently been documented.
We live in a world today where governments across the world are
experiencing periods of instability, where a handful of strategically
crafted false tweets about a world leader or opposition group could
inflame a conflict. Economies are equally unstable in some places, and
remain the targets of those who aim to further weaken the system. And
with a country like the US having become so politically polarized, even
activism has become more extreme - advocacy groups, protesters and even
hackers are far more politically motivated than in recent years. There
are those who thrive in such environments of polarization and
instability, opportunists who wish to cause further chaos for political
or social gain.
Propaganda and disinformation can be equally as dangerous as hacking,
and takes little to execute but an uncritical audience willing to
believe information that is fed to it for consumption. Just look at the
damage a few false posts on Twitter have caused for two companies this
week. It's not unrealistic to think that similar actions could be taken
on a larger scale, in a more strategic fashion.
For all the good to come of vehicles such as Twitter over the last few
years, the more I observe, the more I am critical of everything I see in
a tweet. Perhaps this all seems extreme, but I don't think it's out of
the realm of possibility. 140 characters can be a powerful force, but
not always one for good.