Weapons of Mass Distraction:
Foreign State-Sponsored Disinformation in the Digital Age
Christina Nemr and William Gangware
The proliferation of social media platforms has democratized the dissemination and consumption of information, thereby eroding traditional media hierarchies and undercutting claims of authority. In this environment, states and individuals can easily spread disinformation at lightning speed and with serious impact.
Today’s information ecosystem presents significant vulnerabilities that foreign states can exploit, and they revolve around three primary, interconnected elements:
The medium – the platforms on which disinformation flourishes;
the message – what is being conveyed through disinformation; and,
the audience – the consumers of such content.
The problem of disinformation is therefore not one that can be solved through any single solution, whether psychological or technological. An effective response to this challenge requires understanding the converging factors of technology, media, and human behavior.
This interdisciplinary review, commissioned by the United States Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, presents a holistic overview of the disinformation landscape by examining 1) psychological vulnerabilities to disinformation, 2) current foreign state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda efforts both abroad and in the United States, 3) social media companies’ efforts to counter disinformation, and 4) knowledge and technology gaps that remain.
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