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Security Brief: CTSC and CICYBER Week of January 17, 2022

Week of Monday, January 17, 2022 | Issue 1

Cassidy Finnerty, Laura Vasile, Counter Threat Strategic Communications (CTSC) Team; Keanna Grelicha, Counterintelligence and Cyber (CICYBER) Team


Disinformation versus Misinformation[1]


Date: January 17, 2022

Location: Punjab, India

Parties involved: India National Congress party; Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) party; Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP); YouTube; Facebook; WhatsApp; Twitter; Punjab Elections Commission (EC)

The event: On January 8, 2022, the Punjab EC banned in-person rallies and large gatherings due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, resulting in political campaigns focusing on social media platforms like YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter to gain support. Due to the ban, the Punjab EC decided on January 17, 2022 to hold the Punjab Assembly polls on February 20, 2022, allowing the parties to continue their social media political campaigns until then. The four parties running for the Punjab Assembly elections are the ruling Congress, a national party in India, the SAD, the BSP, which is in alliance with the SAD, and the BJP. Each party’s political campaign posted its promises for economic development and state infrastructure projects on different social media platforms. The SAD is spreading false information about its rival parties, especially the Congress party, by sharing posts and hashtags discrediting their economic and drug-combatting agendas. Disinformation campaigns involve the deliberate use of fake news.[2]

Analysis & Implications:

  • Using social media as a political election tool will likely increase tensions among Congress, SAD, BJP, and BSP, likely leading the parties to continue creating disinformation campaigns to disrupt their rivals’ polling. The spread of false information in political campaigns will likely lead to regulatory discussions within the government on how social media platforms should monitor and regulate political campaigns’ content. The current lack of restrictions in social media platforms’ policies or existing legislation indicates the unlikelihood of producing future regulatory practices on political campaign content. If no regulatory policies are enforced, the proliferation of disinformation during elections and other political events will very likely continue, likely further increasing tensions among the parties involved.

  • The success of disinformation campaigns in disrupting online political campaigns and increasing political tension among parties will very likely encourage hackers to use the disinformation campaigns as a distraction from malicious attacks. As fake news spreads across social media platforms during election periods, voters, party members, and users are very likely focused on the election. This will very likely allow hackers to conduct an attack with bots like fake accounts to add to the political tensions or release malware to social media users engaging with election-related news. An attack targeting election-related content would likely result in collaboration between the government and social media companies to combat the cyberattacks.

  • Disinformation in political campaigns could likely lead to long-term political instability within Punjab, as citizens will likely be dissatisfied with the dishonesty and misleading information in online political campaigns. Dissatisfaction could likely lead to a lack of trust in the government if citizens remain uncertain about the validity and accuracy of political news circulating in the media, likely leading to a further decrease in civilian political participation.

  • Tensions will likely increase between supporters of opposing parties during the upcoming election period. These tensions, likely including bullying and harassment, will likely translate into physical aggression between supporters of the opposing parties or towards political figures. Social media very likely allows for depersonalization, and individuals very likely do not feel the direct consequences of engaging in aggressive political debate online.

Date: January 18, 2022

Location: Global

Parties involved: Right-wing groups; Facebook; Twitter; YouTube; Parler; Gab; Gettr; Rumble; US Congress; US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) officials

The event: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other media platforms worked with US federal, state, and local personnel to target disinformation related to the last two US election periods. Action from CISA officials helped reduce the number of false claims on social media platforms during the past elections. It is unclear whether previous elections’ regulations will be applicable to newer social media apps like Parler, Gab, Gettr, and Rumble during the November 2022 US Congressional midterm elections because of the platforms’ privacy policies. The newer apps garner millions of monthly users and attract members of right-wing groups. Former US President Donald Trump claims he will launch a new app, Truth Social, targeting right-wing individuals by the end of February 2022. Some of these newer apps promise to be anti-Big Tech, anti-censorship, and pro-free speech, which attracts far-right groups who believe in these ideals.[3] Big Tech refers to the four largest information technology (IT) companies: Amazon, Meta, Alphabet, and Apple.[4] Due to the expansion of extremist groups’ online presence through different platforms, many political officials assume that the apps will promote disinformation about the midterm elections.[5]

Analysis & Implications:

  • As social media platforms consistently display the same trending content, individuals will likely turn to traditional media like television or radio to consult other views, likely influencing voting behavior during the election period. If voters are upset with the election results, mainstream media platforms could very likely be criticized for not reporting and restricting disinformation campaigns and fake news on their platforms. Social media’s influence could very likely lead to further discussion on regulations and restrictions for technological platforms. Concerns regarding freedom of speech and expression will very likely generate opposition to potential regulations and restrictions.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) programs on social media platforms collect data and combine similar content to target users who likely relate to the posts, which very likely leads to like-minded users gathering online, very likely resulting in an echo chamber effect. These individuals could very likely create chat rooms, spread information from their sources, and create disinformation campaigns, adding to fake news that spreads online. If AI programs were not programmed to connect similar content that easily creates groups, fake news distributed by individuals would unlikely create as much of a trend.

  • Spreading information that is not fact-checked could likely lead voters to base their choices on disinformation. The idea of disinformation surrounding election results could very likely lead to civil unrest if voters believe their political party did not have a just election. Civil unrest could very likely result in violent demonstrations, destroying government infrastructure and threatening the lives of government officials.

Date: January 18, 2022

Location: San Francisco, California, USA

Parties involved: Twitter; US; Australia; South Korea; Brazil; Spain; The Philippines

The event: In August 2021, Twitter released a new feature to combat disinformation within the US market, mainly used for election and COVID-19-related content. The feature allows users to report disinformation at their discretion. In January 2022, Twitter made the feature available to Australia and South Korea and plans to expand it to Brazil, Spain, and The Philippines. Since the feature’s release, 3.7 million Twitter users have reported fake news or disinformation. The feature has been updated so that the algorithm automates the monitoring of the disinformation that users report, identifying patterns that will help the platform report and take action against the posts. Identifying patterns of disinformation assists in flagging posts that are not text-based content but content that contains images or URLs. The update also includes clear steps to specifically report disinformation instead of only having prompt options to report “spam” or “harmful content.”[6]

Analysis & Implications:

  • The updated patches that help detect patterns of disinformation from specific accounts or locations of users will very likely help the platform’s IT coordinators understand if there is a hub of disinformation and take measures against it. The ability to flag content as "disinformation" will very likely help Twitter modify and improve its regulations regarding banning accounts and deleting posts. Modifying policies regarding deleting tweets and banning users could likely lead to user backlash.

  • This new feature that will remove non-text-based content like images or URLs identified as disinformation will very likely reduce the time non-fact-checked information or propaganda is available online, reaching fewer people. Hubs of individuals who hold polarized beliefs could very likely become smaller and gain less support. With the removal of this type of content, it will very likely be more difficult to attract individuals into hubs of polarized beliefs due to the absence of elements of non-text-based disinformation content, such as humor.

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[1]Disinformation versus Misinformation” by Wikimedia Commons licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Pb polls: Political parties battling it out on social media platforms as public rallies banned, The Economic Times, January 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/elections/assembly-elections/punjab/pb-polls-political-parties-battling-it-out-on-social-media-platforms-as-public-rallies-banned/articleshow/88954022.cms

[3] Rise of right-wing apps seen worsening midterm disinformation, Roll Call, January 2022, https://www.rollcall.com/2022/01/18/rise-of-right-wing-apps-seen-worsening-midterm-disinformation/

[4] What Is Big Tech and Why Is the Government Trying to Break It Up?, MUO, August 2021, https://www.makeuseof.com/what-is-big-tech-and-why-is-the-government-trying-to-break-it-up-/

[5] Rise of right-wing apps seen worsening midterm disinformation, Roll Call, January 2022, https://www.rollcall.com/2022/01/18/rise-of-right-wing-apps-seen-worsening-midterm-disinformation/

[6] Twitter expands misinformation reporting feature to more international markets, TechCrunch, January 2022, https://techcrunch.com/2022/01/18/twitter-expands-misinformation-reporting-feature-to-more-international-markets/

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