Breaking Bad: The Power of 140 Characters

A little noticed news story this week caught my eye and caused me toreflect 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 ofthe cases, Twitter accounts impersonating trading firms made falseaccusations about each of the companies – one tweeting false allegationsof a DOJ investigation for fraud, the other, false reports of an FDAinvestigation over “doctored” drug trial results.

The story reminded me of previous breaches and impersonationof news outlets’ social media accounts, in which false information wasdisseminated under the shield of legitimate news organizations to lendthe disinformation credibility. 

As activists, many of our readers have likely also found themselvestargets of similar disinformation campaigns on an individual basis.There are bad actors who wish to suppress opposing viewpoints ordiscredit productive members of a movement they oppose. Such tacticsrange 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 areexperiencing periods of instability, where a handful of strategicallycrafted false tweets about a world leader or opposition group couldinflame a conflict.  Economies are equally unstable in some places, andremain the targets of those who aim to further weaken the system.  Andwith a country like the US having become so politically polarized, evenactivism has become more extreme – advocacy groups, protesters and evenhackers are far more politically motivated than in recent years. Thereare those who thrive in such environments of polarization andinstability, opportunists who wish to cause further chaos for politicalor social gain. 

Propaganda and disinformation can be equally as dangerous as hacking,and takes little to execute but an uncritical audience willing tobelieve information that is fed to it for consumption.  Just look at thedamage a few false posts on Twitter have caused for two companies thisweek.  It’s not unrealistic to think that similar actions could be takenon a larger scale, in a more strategic fashion.

For all the good to come of vehicles such as Twitter over the last fewyears, the more I observe, the more I am critical of everything I see ina tweet.  Perhaps this all seems extreme, but I don’t think it’s out ofthe realm of possibility.  140 characters can be a powerful force, butnot always one for good.