Did you hear that…? I read on Social Media that …. Many of our conversations start out that way or something like that. We exchange ideas with our friends, our families and our colleagues. We share information, we discuss and we evaluate. And we do this day after day. Because: We are being overrun. Overrun by information – increasingly via social networks. And these social networks have an enormous influence on our news consumption. Because: In 2020, 37 percent of people in Germany obtain information via social media – in 2013 it was only 18 percent (Reuters Institute 2020). According to these figures, the Internet has become the most widely used source of news in Germany alongside television.
But what if the information consumed is not true at all? What if we are deliberately told lie stories via social media? What if the reputation of persons, institutions or companies is to be discredited or destroyed by third parties in a systematic and organized way through targeted false reports? Then we are talking about disinformation campaigns. What exactly this is, who is behind it and how companies, in particular, can protect themselves from it, we explain here.
A disinformation campaign is a targeted, organized information attack on a company, a party, an institution or an individual, whereby a large number of demonstrably false or misleading information (disinformation) is published, which serves the purpose of manipulation and is deliberately disseminated on a large scale.
In the economic context, this can lead to manipulation of share prices, damage to the image of products or even the complete destruction of a company’s reputation. The presence of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in particular simplifies the distribution of company-damaging content today. Algorithms, social bots or artificial intelligence form the technological basis for the dissemination of disinformation.
Emotions, truth and repetition. These are the three pillars on which every disinformation campaign is built.
It’s all about emotions. Through polarizing and negative content the attackers try to unsettle, annoy and frighten the stakeholders. The strong emotionalization leads to other information being given less space or being completely ignored. Disinformation therefore plays with negative emotions. And this is wise, because our brain is much more susceptible to negative than positive news. This phenomenon is called negativity bias (or negativity effect) and explains the fact that we are more attracted to negative news and pay more attention to it.
In the truth the strength lies – also in disinformation campaigns true facts may not be missing. That sounds abstruse now only once, but disinformation attacks are based on the mixture of true facts and wrong information. That has the effect that the spread contents experience more authenticity, since contents appear well-known to the users and are felt so rather than “true”.
Again and again and again – that is the key to success. Because: disinformation campaigns live from repetition. Attackers repeat the misinformation and the designed narrative. The constant repetition then leads to a habitual effect, with the result that the designed story becomes established and stakeholders begin to believe it, and this only because they are regularly confronted with it.
Disinformation campaigns do not spring from fantasy. They are real and can cause great and above all rapid (economic) damage. This is exemplified by the run on the British Metro Bank last year. The (false) rumor spread through WhatsApp that the Metro Bank was in financial trouble. The bank reacted and denied the rumor that had been circulated. However, the denial did not have the desired effect in the end, because countless customers of the bank wanted to close their accounts and take the money from the bank. As a result, the Metro Bank’s share price fell by a full 11 percent.
Step 1: Planning
Attackers prepare a disinformation campaign or buy one in Dark Net on the Disinformation-as-a-Service market.
Step 2: Implementation
Attackers spread the campaign content on the net via websites, messenger services, social media or influencers, among other things.
Step 3: Human engagement
Real people interact with the widespread, reputation-damaging content via comments, likes, shares etc.
Step 4: Sharing and adoption
Groups such as conspiracy theorists or political groups make the narrative they have designed their own.
Step 5: Development of the story
The story gets bigger and bigger – like a rolling and growing snowball, with the attackers also constantly promoting and feeding the story.
Since the advent of social media, they are not only used to make the world a little better, but also to make life more difficult for people and companies. The social web is thus becoming a megaphone for anyone who wants to reach users. And it’s very simple: everyone has access and can easily spread or manipulate false information with their smartphone, laptop or tablet, thus convincing other users of their own agenda. However, if this megaphone is used by threat actors such as individuals, lobby groups or companies that have made it their goal to destroy a company’s reputation by deliberately spreading disinformation, it becomes very critical.
It should be remembered that the dissemination of disinformation is not a new phenomenon, but has always been used for propaganda and manipulation purposes. Social media has only changed the way in which they are distributed and, above all, the reach they can achieve. Due to the increased spread of disinformation in social media, two effects in particular could be identified in the past: On the one hand, the assessment of the credibility of information (in social media) as a whole is becoming more and more difficult as there are more and more sources of information. On the other hand, the tendency of people to follow like-minded people on social media leads to the creation of echo chambers and filter bubbles, which further intensify polarization. For within isolated social groups there is no contradictory information that could counteract the disinformation shared there.
Moreover, the structure of social media offers a direct channel of communication. Because: there is no mediator between author and consumer. This means that every user has the opportunity to become an author in the social media – without having to check the content or regulate the publication. This unfiltered passing on of information thus also harbors dangers – especially when, through the scattering of disinformation, systematic and organized attempts are made to damage companies or even destroy them completely.
Social media platforms are becoming increasingly important for news consumption. Around 30 percent of the 18 to 24-year-olds surveyed see social media as the most important source of news.Reuters Institute 2020.
Behind disinformation campaigns, real people can be dissatisfied (ex-)employees, competitors, lobby groups, trolls, commissioned dubious PR companies, criminals or computer programs used by humans such as social bots. Because in the age of the Social Web, it no longer requires a great deal of IT know-how: anyone can spread disinformation – whether for personal or economic reasons. The spreading of disinformation becomes particularly dangerous for companies if it is done wilfully, intentionally, organized and for the purpose of manipulation on a large scale.
From 40 USD/month – that’s how much it costs to rent a bot-net in Dark Net or to purchase 1000 Twitter fake profiles.
Then one can talk about so-called disinformation campaigns, which have opened up a whole new business model. We are talking about the so-called disinformation-as-a-service market (DaaS), where just such malicious campaigns can be bought via Dark Net. Without much effort and for not too much money, the distribution of reputation-damaging and false content can be bought nowadays.
You can get a fake news article on the Disinformation as a Service market from 15$ per 1000 characters. A Social-Media-Post from 8$ per 1000.Recorded Future
Although it is generally difficult to identify the full impact of disinformation campaigns, it is clear that they do have an impact. And that is not positive for enterprises concerned.
Every fourth company has already been affected by disinformation attacks on its own reputation.Deloitte 2019.
In the short and long term, targeted disinformation campaigns can be…
Disinformation costs the global economy $78 billion annually.CHEQ 2019.
The spread of disinformation in social media has become a huge phenomenon, but also a problem. Therefore, the media discourse increasingly speaks of a so-called disinformation crisis. The consequences of this crisis are currently not yet foreseeable. However, it is clear that users will have less confidence in disseminated information in the future, as it will be much more difficult to separate fact from fiction due to the presentation of published disinformation. The best protection against disinformation campaigns is therefore in the first instance a well-informed and above all media-competent public. However, this utopian idea should not yet be given in 2020.
Because of these difficulties, it is of enormous importance to declare war on disinformation, to oppose it vehemently and not to leave the digital living space to them. Your company will thank you for it.
What you can do:
Create a plan for dealing with threats that are directed against your company, you or your employees, because the threats do not remain in the digital world, but also affect your offline world.
Provide training and resources to proactively combat them
Design an elaborated reputation and risk management
PREVENCY® helps you to reach your goal.
Better safe than sorry.