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Thirty Countries Use 'Armies of Opinion Shapers' To Manipulate Democracy (theguardian.com) 181

The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows. From a report on The Guardian: Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House. "Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate," the US government-funded charity said. "Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russia's disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power."

Thirty Countries Use 'Armies of Opinion Shapers' To Manipulate Democracy

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  • by A10Mechanic ( 1056868 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @03:51PM (#55549897)
    Wait, people are getting paid to post on social media sites, and I've been giving it away to Slashdot for free? I feel so cheap.
    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      For free? It's been a while since I checked the exchange rate, but 1 /. mod point is worth at least 2 FB 'likes'. Replies trade even unless it comes from an AC - Nobody cares about those. We're not posting for free; we're posting for ego strokes.

    • Wait, people are getting paid to post on social media sites, and I've been giving it away to Slashdot for free? I feel so cheap.

      Well, your high karma lets you disable ads.

      Oh, wait...

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Yes, where do we apply for these jobs? ;)

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @03:52PM (#55549903)
    back in my day we just called it propaganda. Folks do know the US Government does this every time we go to war, right? We did it before Iraq and we're starting to do it for North Korea.
    • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @03:58PM (#55549927) Homepage

      The difference is that the Internet makes it much easier to make the propaganda seem to originate from within a country. Back in the Cold War, if the Russians wanted people to think there was a big movement for/against some policy, they would need actual people embedded in the US. Those people would risk being exposed and arrested. Nowadays, they can either pay some people within Russia or run some bots to post on Facebook/Twitter/etc from "totally American" accounts. Instead of a handful of agents risking arrest, they can have thousands of "agents" operating from the safety of their computers in Russia. If an "agent" gets outed, that account can be closed down and another one set up right away. (In fact, I'd be surprised if they didn't have a bunch of accounts lying around waiting to be called into service as needed.)

      • by AlanBDee ( 2261976 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @04:18PM (#55550071)

        So, what you're saying is they any person who disagrees with me is a Russian agent. Got it.

        Maybe this coming out will help the general population adapt actual critical thinking skills.

        • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @04:22PM (#55550091) Journal

          Don't forget .. sexist, bigoted, hater. Duh.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Only if they post exclusively during Moscow office hours, occasionally forget to disable location metadata and are being paid.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          So, what you're saying is they any person who disagrees with me is a Russian agent. Got it.

          Nah, they're just the most obvious ones. Apart from all the cheerleaders and the obvious and not so obvious smear tactics and ad hominems you also have concern trolls and agent provocateurs. Concern trolls are people who pretend to be on your side but brings up lots of issues they have with your tactics and arguments trying to make it seem like you don't really know what you're doing, basically undercover FUD spreaders. Agent provocateurs are plants trying to rile up negative elements so they will hurt the

        • So, what you're saying is they any person who disagrees with me is a Russian agent. Got it.

          Not quite, It think the point is that anyone deliberately trying to divide or inflame a discussion should be treated suspiciously. I saw an example the other day of how the Russians hosted two opposing FB sites in small town USA. One pro-something, one anti, and then they just fed the flames. The even organised rallies on the same day to kick off some unrest.
          The goal is to disrupt and divide. If you find yourself contributing to the division then you are unwittingly being played by our enemies.

          Maybe this coming out will help the general population adapt actual critical thinking skills.

          I doubt it.

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          Or even worse, an American agent.
          As for critical thinking, people use their intelligence to rationalize why their gut feelings are correct.

        • your post itself is a classic KGB technique used to shut down discussion of an issue by introducing doubt. I'm not even sure you're aware you're doing it. John Oliver just did a nice piece [youtube.com] on it.
      • by anegg ( 1390659 )

        The Internet significantly increased the efficiency and effectiveness of communications. Unfortunately, this includes "evil" as well as "good" communications. The world productivity jumps of the 1990s and 2000s were substantially assisted by Internet communications and IT in general. Unfortunately, the bad guys benefit along with the good guys.

        • The Internet can definitely be used for good as well as for bad purposes. It's just a tool. There's nothing inherently good or bad about it. It's people who use the tool that make it either raise people up or sow chaos.

      • Nowadays, they can either pay some people within Russia or run some bots to post on Facebook/Twitter/etc from "totally American" accounts.

        Who cares about posts on social media? Those sites aren't reputable.

        • For better or worse, a lot of people care. You can set up a real-looking website with a completely phony story and, with a few targeted social media posts, make a large swath of people think it's true. Do this in the right way and you can influence an entire country right from behind your keyboard.

      • The difference is that the Internet makes it much easier to make the propaganda seem to originate from within a country.

        I think the more important difference is that the Internet can make propaganda seem to originate from average citizens. A skilful astro-turfing campaign can be difficult to detect, even by people who know what to look for - and when the noise coming from that campaign is further anonymized by the 'net and amplified in various other echo chambers, it can start to sound like consensus. When it reaches that point, it can actually become consensus. Chomsky and Herman identified 'manufacturing consent' when the

        • Yes, and with much less effort than previous "average citizens support X" propaganda efforts pre-Internet. One person, behind a keyboard, can not only pretend to be an average citizen of any country, they can pretend to be multiple average citizens. Pay a person to be on social media all day and they can run a dozen "average citizen" accounts, each amplifying the others. Have a team of ten people and you can have a hundred "average citizens." Target this well enough and it will seem as if there's a growing

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bobbied ( 2522392 )

      back in my day we just called it propaganda. Folks do know the US Government does this every time we go to war, right? We did it before Iraq and we're starting to do it for North Korea.

      Not to make too much of a fine point on this... You do realize that we ARE at war with NK now, technically. The Korean War never really ended, all we really got was a cease fire agreement...

      Also, I'd like to point out that NK represents a "clear and present danger" (to use the legal term) to the USA given they have demonstrated both the technologies necessary to launch a nuclear strike on our main land and have expressed their desire to actually DO it. (ICBMs with sufficient range and Nuclear bomb techno

    • So your thesis is that it is an act of war?

      Right?

    • back in my day we just called it propaganda. Folks do know the US Government does this every time we go to war, right? We did it before Iraq and we're starting to do it for North Korea.

      I really wish more people understood this. Every time we go to war, it is under false pretenses. Every time.

  • If people didn't tend to be such stupid, fucking sheep, this wouldn't work - but it does.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @04:00PM (#55549945)

    So it is an easy push to villify them.
    Those godless Democrats are trying to push an atheist addenda source with those few people who happen to be democrats and push an atheist adgenda.

    Those idiot republicans who are trying to bring the country back a century. Reference by those few people pushing a racist agenda who have red trump hats.

    If you are on the side of the Democrats you may be a god fearing individual and you realize that these people are not representative of you but a subset group.

    If you are a Republican however you are very inclusive and tolerant, you see the racist as not representative of you and the republicans on whole.

    We see the news headlines liberals/conservatives are doing something you don’t like. Not a subset of the group is doing something you don’t like. So it just reinforces tribalism tendencies that we have and bypass common sense and you make sure those other guys don’t get power, because they are far more dangerous then your side is.

    • The liberal* agenda is the atheist agenda: stop religious bigotry and separate church and state. It just so happens that a lot of religious people like the atheist agenda.

      * The democratic party agenda at the moment, on the other hand, seems to be just to serve itself and let everyone know it's not Trump.

  • Governments have always done this. Why is this news?

    -jcr

    • It is news because 50 years ago doing this was hard, today it is very easy.
      • by bigpat ( 158134 )

        It is news because 50 years ago doing this was hard, today it is very easy.

        Quite the opposite. Doing it 50 years ago meant controlling a few newspapers, a few radio stations and TV networks. Today's propaganda requires that same level of control/influence and also a distributed campaign on social media. Much harder to keep a unified message with more people spreading that message.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          I'm not sure it was that much "easier" years ago. There were a lot more newspapers and in many cities they actually competed with each other, plus there were a lot of ethnic group centric newspapers, often published in a non-English language (although this is probably pre-WWII). You might swing some plurality getting Hearst on your side, but there were still a lot of people who weren't reading his papers or outright didn't trust them.

          Plus I think in less media saturated times, people were more influenced

    • (*) Now in the internets
    • by q4Fry ( 1322209 )

      The final tally of 30 countries seems unreasonably low to me, but it turns out TFA says "out of 65 surveyed." I think 46% still sounds low, but more believable than 30 of ~130.

  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @04:08PM (#55549995)

    That used to be anyone who had an opinion and shared it. Now we need a new phrase for it in order to generate clicks. I hate what the world is becoming....

  • .... we had our own little army of opinion shapers for decades, way before the advent of social medias, they are called pundits on cable news.
    • Even before that, we had the Voice of America, since the 40's

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @04:36PM (#55550195) Journal
      Yes the Operation Mockingbird https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and the Mighty Wurlitzer.
      The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (review) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/4... [jhu.edu]
    • by harrkev ( 623093 )

      they are called pundits on cable news.

      They used to be called "pundits." Now they are called "journalists."

      I really hate the media these days. I am not a huge fan on Trump, but I see that the media does not give him a fair shake. Every media outlet has an agenda, whether it is to praise Trump, or (mostly) vilify every single thing that he does. Both sides promote some stories while ignoring others, and ignore the facts that ruin their narrative

      I have seen a great double-standard where Democrats get away

      • Where does one go for truly unbiased coverage?

        No such place exists. Best you can do is get information from many points of view from different perspectives and inform your opinion knowing that all participants involved, including you, are biased. It's also helpful to learn each specific bias and find the narrative they try to create with the stories they run, how they run them, and the facts they include or omit so that you know what is missing and what is being crafted.

        I think my big pet peeve is a news outlet conveying themselves as unbiased or balan

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @04:32PM (#55550165)
    if you think the USA is all good and benevolent and honest then you are part of the problem because the USA has been meddling in politics in both the USA and worldwide for over a century
  • >> "factual news and authentic debate"

    Where can I get this, so called, factual news?

    All news sources have a slant. Some much worse than others...
    • You just gotta feel it in your guts. Deep down in the bowels of the truthiness-sphinker you have to pucker the truth out into a malleable morass you can work with.

    • >> "factual news and authentic debate" Where can I get this, so called, factual news? All news sources have a slant. Some much worse than others...

      Best bet is the Wall Street Journal. Stay away from opinion sections but for raw news you can consider it fairly well confirmed. The reason is that it is what people read for their news to make money. If they misrepresent the news, somebody making a business decision on that information could looks millions if billions. Murdoch's ownership is worrisome, but the people that make money still need to get their news someplace and there's no room for bias in facts when money is on the line. new York Times used t

  • If nothing is done to stop the nations of the earth from talking, we're but a single crisis away from World Argument I. Imagine an entire generation of youth lost to the comment sections of the Western Front.

  • .. that disagrees with me is a paid shill. Got it. I feel smugger already!

  • It's bad enough when it happens without people even conspiring to make it happen [wikipedia.org], but now people are actively (and openly enough to be caught?) conspiring to make it happen, too?

  • Opinion shapers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by temcat ( 873475 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @05:42PM (#55550695)

    A Russian here. I would say that these "opinion shapers", as they are called here, together with RT have much greater impact (and in a more general way) on public opinion than the current nothingburger (my favorite word indeed) of Russian "election meddling" using Facebook ads and microscopical investments at the level of 100s of thousands of dollars. These sockpuppets can be found everywhere in the comment sections of major media. They exist on Slashdot too, although I haven't seen many of them here.

    • I've seen quite a bit of it on here, mostly when it comes to politically charged things like climate change.

      There appears to be an Apple reputation protection version of it too that occasionally wields mod points.

  • Doesn't specify a 50 cents club per se, but https://xkcd.com/1019/ [xkcd.com] was the same idea.

  • by eaglesrule ( 4607947 ) on Tuesday November 14, 2017 @06:02PM (#55550859)

    From: [wikipedia.org] It describes itself as a "clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world". The organization was 66–85% funded by grants from the U.S. government from 2006–15... Freedom House is a nonprofit organization. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., it has field offices in about a dozen countries, including Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, Jordan, Mexico, and also countries in Central Asia.

    So when they talk about government funded 'opinion shapers', they know the business.

    Meanwhile, the Smith–Mundt Act has been repealed, and that 90% of the media is owned by just six major corporations allowing for near total consolidation of message. We're rife with super PACS that have millions for funding groups like Correct The Record and other astroturfing agencies. The major social media sites are deplatforming, shadow banning, and outright censoring anyone with an opinion they don't like under the guise of combating 'extremism'. Net Neutrality is being dismantled, to help ensure that competing platforms that actually support free speech can't compete.

    But, Russian meddling!

  • This reads like one of those lousy patent applications for something that has always been done with the words "using the internet" added on to make it patentable. Wasn't there always voice of america, BBC world service, RT etc. not to mention all the state run TV stations in tinpot nations. This isn't suddenly much worse just because it's on facebook. If that were true Kim Jong Unhinged would let his people have internet.
  • The rest of us have Rupert Murdoch telling us what to think.

  • Its not fair! Only mainstream media is allowed to manipulate opinion domestically.
  • Obviously the US is now using such opinion shapers for its own nefarious purposes. It is all pretty sick and i fear it may get worse. We can not trust one word that Trump utters and many are willing to back up his chronic lies. Trump mumbles about making deals but no nation in its right mind would have any kind of deal with Trump as Trump will surely lie to them just like he lies to everyone else. Our nation is sick as a dog with these types of politicians allowed to exist.
  • Democracy is worth nothing if the 'demos' is gullible and dumb as fuck and get their 'news' from social media.
  • 30 countries? What about _ALL_ countries.

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde

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