The Rise of the Term ‘Weaponized Information’

In “The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine”, the authors begin:

“This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.

Albright, an assistant professor and data scientist at Elon University, started digging into fake news sites after Donald Trump was elected president. Through extensive research and interviews with Albright and other key experts in the field, including Samuel Woolley, Head of Research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, and Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at Kings College, it became clear to Scout that this phenomenon was about much more than just a few fake news stories. It was a piece of a much bigger and darker puzzle — a Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine being used to manipulate our opinions and behavior to advance specific political agendas.

By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. Many of these technologies have been used individually to some effect before, but together they make up a nearly impenetrable voter manipulation machine that is quickly becoming the new deciding factor in elections around the world.

Most recently, Analytica helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump, secured a win for the Brexit Leave campaign, and led Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign surge, shepherding him from the back of the GOP primary pack to the front.

The company is owned and controlled by conservative and alt-right interests that are also deeply entwined in the Trump administration. The Mercer family is both a major owner of Cambridge Analytica and one of Trump’s biggest donors. Steve Bannon, in addition to acting as Trump’s Chief Strategist and a member of the White House Security Council, is a Cambridge Analytica board member. Until recently, Analytica’s CTO was the acting CTO at the Republican National Convention.

So, Cambridge Analytica, it seems, is the new Halliburton: a bogeyman for the Left.

In the era of Big Data we’re in, the accelerated ability to mine such data and exploit it is… expected. It’s simply targeted messaging.

When the Obama campaign’s OFA (and other pro-Obama forces) did this in 2008 and 2012, the MSM heralded it as the new age of political messaging, and something OFA was much better at than McCain or Romney.

When the Trump campaign (and other pro-Trump forces) did it in 2016, however, it’s suddenly ‘weaponized AI Propaganda’.

Given its rapid development, the technology community needs to anticipate how AI propaganda will soon be used for emotional manipulation in mobile messaging, virtual reality, and augmented reality…

Led by Dr. Philip Howard, the team’s Principal Investigator, Woolley and his colleagues have been tracking the use of bots in political organizing since 2010. That’s when Howard, buried deep in research about the role Twitter played in the Arab Spring, first noticed thousands of bots coopting hashtags used by protesters.

Curious, he and his team began reaching out to hackers, botmakers, and political campaigns, getting to know them and trying to understand their work and motivations. Eventually, those creators would come to make up an informal network of nearly 100 informants that have kept Howard and his colleagues in the know about these bots over the last few years.

Before long, Howard and his team were getting the heads up about bot propaganda campaigns from the creators themselves. As more and more major international political figures began using botnets as just another tool in their campaigns, Howard, Woolley and the rest of their team studied the action unfolding.

The world these informants revealed is an international network of governments, consultancies (often with owners or top management just one degree away from official government actors), and individuals who build and maintain massive networks of bots to amplify the messages of political actors, spread messages counter to those of their opponents, and silence those whose views or ideas might threaten those same political actors.

“The Chinese, Iranian, and Russian, governments employ their own social-media experts and pay small amounts of money to large numbers of people to generate pro-government messages,” Howard and his coauthors wrote in a 2015 research paper about the use of bots in the Venezuelan election.

Depending on which of those three categories bot creators fall into — government, consultancy or individual — they’re just as likely to be motivated by political beliefs as they are the opportunity to auction off their networks of digital influence to the highest bidder.

Not all bots are created equal. The average, run-of-the-mill Twitter bot is literally a robot — often programmed to retweet specific accounts to help popularize specific ideas or viewpoints. They also frequently respond automatically to Twitter users who use certain keywords or hashtags — often with pre-written slurs, insults or threats.

High-end bots on the other hand are more analog, operated by real people. They assume fake identities with distinct personalities and their responses to other users online are specific, intended to change their opinions or those of their followers by attacking their viewpoints. They have online friends and followers. They’re also far less likely to be discovered — and their accounts deactivated — by Facebook or Twitter.

Working on their own, Woolley estimates, an individual could build and maintain up to 400 of these boutique Twitter bots; on Facebook, which he says is more effective at identifying and shutting down fake accounts, an individual could manage 10-20.

The authors exhibit borderline paranoia, where human agency is seemingly no longer a factor, in their conclusion:

From now on, the distinguishing factor between those who win elections and those who lose them will be how a candidate uses that data to refine their machine learning algorithms and automated engagement tactics. Elections in 2018 and 2020 won’t be a contest of ideas, but a battle of automated behavior change.

The fight for the future will be a proxy war of machine learning. It will be waged online, in secret, and with the unwitting help of all of you.

If the Left gets better at this game than the Right, the MSM will have no problem. “Truth” will have prevailed.

But if this doesn’t happen, there will be more P.C. companies (e.g., Google,  Twitter, FB) purging so-called ‘fake news’ sites and banning individuals guilty of ‘hate speech’.

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