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The Dirty War of Disinformation on Social Media

March 18, 2024 - ColumnasDestacado
In times of elections in Chile, it is crucial for our communication and political marketing agencies to adhere to honesty and transparency, informing and persuading, but steering clear of deceitful and manipulative strategies.

By Luis Santana

“Let’s make up ‘stuff’… it doesn’t matter… just make it heavy, harsh. Invent… the dirty war on Twitter. On Twitter, nobody knows who you are, that’s how the haters do it,” those were the instructions given by the mayor’s communications chief via a WhatsApp audio message to her team, to attack opposition council members on social media.

This audio is further evidence of the practices that researchers from different universities around the world have been tracing for some time now. They are interest groups and politicians who, shielded by anonymity, attempt to manipulate public opinion through deceit.

Since the Chilean presidential campaign of 2017, the presence of bots aimed at creating the illusion of massive support for certain candidates has been evident. These disinformation dissemination strategies have evolved over time, becoming more sophisticated and less direct in their support for specific causes or candidates. Now, they are also used to attack and silence opponents or journalists, as was the case in Maipú, or simply to sow discord in certain debates.

Among these tactics are “sock puppet accounts,” social media profiles that appear to be real individuals but are actually controlled by people with fake identities, often managing multiple accounts to attack certain causes or individuals. Throughout the world, there are communication agencies and professionals—often disguised as political marketing companies—that sell computational propaganda to influence political processes. Their methods include the use of influencers promoting certain positions, bots, sock puppet accounts, and coordinating attacks against opponents. This is what the mayor’s journalist referred to as “dirty war.”

In countries like Russia and Venezuela, there are propaganda strategies involving both commercial agencies and government intelligence services. Another example: In Brazil, during Bolsonaro’s government, his advisors ran a disinformation operation known as the “hate office,” aimed at defaming institutions and people who defended democracy and institutions.

The anonymity and automation capability, which allows for the massive dissemination of messages, make these practices extremely harmful and difficult to control. However, there are multiple ongoing efforts to uncover and expose these agencies and professionals who undermine the possibility of being informed and deliberating democratically. In times of elections in Chile, it is essential that our communication and political marketing agencies adhere to honesty and transparency, informing and persuading, but staying away from deceitful and manipulative strategies.

Via El Mostrador.