Dis/misinformation was a major concern in the 2016 US presidential election and has only grown worse in recent years. Even though dis/misinformation is often spread by domestic actors, actors abroad can use it to spread confusion and push their agenda to the detriment of American citizens. Even though this report focuses on actors outside the United States, the methods that they use are universal and can be adapted to work against domestic agents as well. A solid understanding of these methods is the first step in combating foreign dis/misinformation campaigns and creating a new information literacy paradigm.
This report highlights primary mechanisms of dis/misinformation: multimedia manipulation, bots, astroturfing, and trolling. These forms of dis/misinformation were selected after thorough research about common pathways dis/misinformation are spread online. Multimedia manipulation details image, video, and audio dis/misinformation in the form of deepfakes, memes, and out-of-context images. Bots are automated social media accounts that are not managed by humans and often contribute to dis/misinformation campaigns. Astroturfing and trolls use deception to sway media users to join false grassroots campaigns and utilize emotionally charged posts to provoke a response from users.
This policy report also specifically defines case studies of disinformation seen in China, Russia, and Iran, outlining common patterns of dis/misinformation specific to these countries. These patterns will allow for more accurate and quick identification of dis/misinformation from the outlined countries by State Department Watch Officers. Recommendations have also been provided for each type of disinformation and include a list of what individuals should look for and how to make sure that the information they receive is accurate and from a reputable source. The addendum at the end of the paper lists all of the recommendations in one place so that individuals do not have to search the paper for the recommendation they are looking for.
The intention of this report is to aid State Department Watch Officers as they work to accurately identify foreign developments, but researchers may also find this information useful in anticipating future developments in foreign dis/misinformation campaigns.