This sortie is a follow-on to ICSL Paper #28 which showed how critical thinking errors lead to exploitation. Our focus here is on freely available platforms and programs that can track and destroy disinformation.
Malicious actors exploit independent thinking as a vulnerability, but not just to undermine democracies. They recruit, radicalize and marginalize people anywhere to achieve combined effects. Against an unarmed mind, dominant narratives weaponize information to shape a person’s identity (must see Mad Scientist Lab video interview of Ajit Maan and Paul Cobaugh).
Differences between freedom of expression and weaponized information can be difficult to discern due to insidious self-censorship, but one thing is clear. Authoritarian regimes and extremists exploit democratic freedom of expression while suppressing the same at home. Except that they don’t stay home. In hiding and in plain sight, disinformation is transforming global domains into all-effects arenas of cooperation and confrontation.
This following list of nine platforms and programs is far from comprehensive, but it does provide a look at different types of trackers and destroyers of disinformation. Four main points under each example explain what the platform or program is, its threat focus, who is involved, and how it works. A longer list may be found in RAND’s Truth Decay Initiative. RAND’s scope encompasses tools for bot/spam detection, coding standards, credibility scoring, education and training, verification, and white listing (updated in December 2019).
The Mekong River Tracker
The Mekong Infrastructure Tracker is a public platform that creates transparency on nearly 4000 infrastructure projects in a strategic sub-region that includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and southwest China.
Authoritarian China is the main threat to information transparency as its single Party, state-run firms manipulate water levels. This causes catastrophic damage downstream.
The tracker is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by The Asia Foundation.
There are two tools that destroy some opaqueness of Chinese disinformation.
The Dashboard tracks project size and status, type of infrastructure, funding, and watershed.
The Impact Screener reveals impacts on energy, protected areas, threatened species, biodiversity, armed conflict, and ethnic groups.
The Election Integrity Partnership
The Election Integrity Partnership joins civil society and election officials to hunt for misinformation, analyze public reports, and provide findings to mitigate the impact. The focus is on content that: suppresses voting; reduces participation; confuses voters about the voting process; and delegitimizes elections.
This threat is any interference in US elections from foreign or domestic actors. See the Virality Project (below) for these examples.
Multiple sources feed potential disinformation in transparent and nonpartisan format to a web portal in real time. Those inputs and social media channels share findings with official social media channels. Election officials may contact the Partnership at email@example.com.
The ADL’s perspective on threats to the Jewish people is that they threaten justice for all groups. Threats include the Klu Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups, White Supremicist prison gangs, Aryan Knights, Aryan Brotherhood, Aryan Circle, Southern Brotherhood, Combat 18, 211 Crew, The Unforgiven, Blood & Honor, Hammerskins, Supreme White Alliance, European Kindred, Public Enemy 1, Advanced White Society, American Front, American Identity Movement, SHARP, Annuda Shoah, Arrow Cross Party, and more (that was just page 1)..
Sigmound Livingston founded ADL in 1913. The current Board of Directors is posted on the website, as are partner organizations such as Echoes & Reflections and the Hidden Child Foundation.
The League fights anti-semitism, combats hate and protects communities, confronts discrimination and secures justice, supports Israel, and promotes respectful schools and communities. Activities to destroy extremism in proactive ways include providing educational resources from K through 12 to universities, working with local communities and law enforcement, removing obstacles to voting, informing about developments in Israel, providing online resources, and in-person training.
Bot Sentinel detects untrustworthy accounts. The program classifies and tracks inauthentic accounts and malicious trolls. The results are published as non-partisan information.
Threats are bots in the form of inauthentic accounts that fake human identities to deceive followers and broader audiences. Desired effects include sowing confusion, manufacturing discord, and generating harassment on social media platforms.
Christopher Bouzy created Bot Sentinel in 2017. Under ”Press,” we can find relevant articles from May 2018 to now from BuzzFeed News, CBS News, Digital Trends, Forbes, Fortune, Inverse, Inside Climate News, LAWFARE, NBC News, The Hill, The Washington Post, Digital Trends, the Business Insider, The Daily Dot, and Vice News.
The program uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify inauthentic accounts. These are classified by Avatar, ID, Name, Following, Followers, Score, and Rating (Normal, Satisfactory, Disruptive). Advanced tools can work if you grant access to specific accounts features such as searching tweets, blocking or hiding replies. Under “Trending Topics” Bot Sentinel lists Top 20: hashtags; two word phrases; URLs; and mentions.
University of Washington Projects
As is the case with so many research universities, the University of Washington has an impressive collection of ongoing projects that are searchable.
The Center for an Informed Public emphasizes a broad range strategic misinformation threats that disrupt informed society and weakens democratic discourse.
The Eigenfactor Projects develop methods and visualized data to map the structure of science. One of these is the Open Access Project.
The Open Access Project ranks journals according to the standards of peer review and peer readership. This yields a visual plot for comparing sources.
One study reveals the collaborative nature of disinformation via three case studies:
Trolling Operations Conducted by the Internet Research Agency Targeting US Political Discourse (highly orchestrated).
The Disinformation Campaign Targeting the While Helmets (in Syria; cultivating an online community).
The Online Ecosystem Supporting Conspiracy Theorizing about Crisis Events (online crowds’ emergent activity).
Propastop is a blog run by volunteers in Estonia to clean out propaganda, false information, and media lies. The organization is proactive in developing and comparing Estonia’s countermeasures with other European states.
While the blog is independent, many members serve in the Estonia Defense League. Editors and co-workers are anonymous, with one public contact listed on the website.
The threat is mostly Russian propaganda that is waging a scorched earth information warfare against the Baltic states, where there are sizable ethnic Russian-speaking minorities .
Besides news analysis, interviews, and incidents of propaganda, Propastop works in a number of innovative ways:
myth breakers that detail propaganda inaccuracies by putting them into context.
picture games designed to increase media literacy by revealing visual errors and tricks.
Besides publishing a weekly Securing Democracy Dispatch, the Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard analyzes narratives and topics pushed by three authoritarian informationists. These sources are Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government officials and state-funded media on Twitter, YouTube, state-sponsored news websites, and the United Nations. ICSL Note #15 provides a demo of how one might use the Dashboard.
RAN is a massive effort to preempt and counter threats from radicalization.
Founded in 2011, the network includes members from each EU state and funded by the European Commission, Migration and Home Affairs.
The network is remarkably proactive, beyond surveillance and security against attacks. RAN undermines the radicalisation and recruitment of future terrorists. The policy framework within which this happens is stablished by the European Commission’s Communication on Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violent Extremism and the European Agenda on Security.
Abdullah X: an animated multi-media story of a young Muslim boy looking to fit into society to challenge online extremist narratives.
CENAA: a broad Slovak program via local discussions, getting politicians to speak out, and designing interventions to change perceptions.
Peer to Peer: organizing student activities and networks to develop campaigns and social media strategies against extremism.
Donate the Hate: online charity program with contributions from donors for each extremist hate comment; turns hate into charity.
Nazis Against Nazis: online charity with contributions from donors for each person that participates in a Nazi walk; creation of charity walk.
Trojan T-shirt: hands out extremist T-shirt at extremist events; after the first wash of the shirt, a hard-hitting message to ponder is revealed.
Hope Not Hate: counter-narratives in a bi-weekly publication, providing a platform for antidotes and diversions to extremist narratives.
Twin Track: drama and lesson plans to engage young people away from drug and gang cultures.
The Redirect Method: video with local organizations’ involvement to resonate with the at-risk audience.
Muslim-Jewish dialogue: regular community meetings,, presentations and discussions targeting prison, probation and justice officials.
Eurotopia: videos from Sweden, Belgium and Italy that challenge who the hero and villains are in extremist attacks.
Ridiculing the Radical Facebook Page: making far-right views an object of ridicule to reduce the receptivity of extremism.
#NotAnotherBrother: a counter-speech campaign to reach foreign fighters by challenging the Islamic State’s utopian message.
Listening to Victims: generating an open dialogue between victims of terrorism and the general public to reduce the appeal of extremism.
Jamal al Khatib-my Path!: based on a story of a young prisoner who left the jihadist path, to prevent others from making same mistakes.
No-Nazi Net: democratic narratives to prevent Nazi radicalization by monitoring and combating extremism via chats-serious and funny.
What’s Up?: peer led civic education in Muslim neighborhoods, encouraging youth to debate publicly as a way to build resilience.
Witness of History: raw experiential honest testimony by victims of terrorism, a potent balance against extremism.
Echoes of IS: 12 captivating stories by victims of the Islamic State to counteract IS propaganda.
On/Off Deradicalization Model: starting online interventions that lead to face-to-face meetings with radicalized individuals.
Light Upon Light
Light Upon Light (LuL) is an online portal with a broad set of activities dedicated to combating polarization, hate, and extremism. The idea is to combine online and offline operations to generate and sustain a broad-based movement.
Hate is the threat: The idea is to provide positive alternatives for those vulnerable to radicalization at all stages in their lives.
The LuL ecosystem is filled with real heroes who do the following:
Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate, an online magazine with articles written by former violent extremists, survivors of extremist violence, and researchers.
Shift-Hate, a 24/7 Helpline for those susceptible to or believing in extremism.
SAVE-Hate, a proactive cadre of ’formers and Shape Shifters who speak in communities, panels, conferences, and in the media.
ESC-Hate is about prevention via podcasts, interventions, a national tour, and a hate tattoo removal service.
Tracking and destroying information requires mastering three competencies:
Situational Awareness of exploitations.
Fluency in the practice of freely exchanged ideas.
Authoritarian disinformation and extremist narratives try to undermine all of that.
The trackers and platforms highlighted in our sortie empower us to evaluate information based on evidence, assumptions, values, and interests. All of these are subject to attack. We must decide what arguments and claims are valid. Do not let your opponent do this for (to) you. Toward that end, here are nine take-aways from each source:
The Mekong River Tracker tracks infrastructure projects and destroys the opaqueness of deceptive Chinese practices.
The Election Integrity Partnership tracks and destroys election interference via academic, citizens, and election officials..
The Anti Defamation League tracks and destroys hate against the Jewish people and by extension all victims.
Bot Sentinel tracks inauthentic accounts, revealing the work of malicious trolls in published reports.
The University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public’s Open Access Project tracks extremism by revealing their collaborative nature.
Propastop tracks and destroys propaganda, false information, and media lies from Russia in Estonia and beyond.
The Alliance for Security Democracy tracks authoritarian interference to promote critical evaluation of state-run information.
The Radicalization Awareness Network does massive destruction to disinformation involving the entire EU and multiple agencies.
Light Upon Light tracks and destroys hate with proactive engagement that reveals extremist methods by those who practiced them.
NOTE: It should be emphasized that there are more sources of trusted information that critical thinkers can evaluate than space permits here, such as Debunk.eu in Lithuania. These skills and tools will not solve human conflict over power and influence. Even among democracies, interests and perspectives vary wildly among cultures. Contentious debates persist over collective and individual interests, equality of results and equality of opportunity, and the justice of democratic socialism and democratic capitalism.
CAUTION: Authoritarians and extremists operate using techniques that polarize these differences to erode democratic rule of law.
Democracies, however, thrive in differences when rule of law is accepted as a process that balances common values such as freedom, equality and justice.