Michael D. Moberly
The intangible products and outcomes of real, fake news. Imagine, if you will, how the following could – can – have been applied to manufacture – exacerbate the semblance reputation risk to adversely affect your business – company at ‘keystroke speed’!
Hardly anyone should be surprised today to learn that it is possible to influence people’s perspectives – opinions about a particular-issue(s) and/or topic(s) overtime by, among other ways, manufacturing (fake, simulated, highly embellished and/or exaggerated) events or actions online and presenting same as legitimate news. Of course, some may argue there are striking similarities here to marketing and advertising initiatives designed – intended to achieve, on behalf of an employer or client, to influence (usually targeted or, already receptive) audiences, i.e., prospective consumers, to believe a need exists and ultimately create a demand where perhaps little or none previously existed.
Technological – consumer centric advancements in this arena are in clear evidence via our online shopping experiences-processes that reflect the manner-in-which consumers repetitively browse, at will, for products, brands, and/or services with same being tracked and monitored to produce pop-up advertisements presumably to keep the products which draw our (online) attention ‘top of mind’ and aligned with our search behaviors, again, as prospective consumers.
Insofar as political ideologies are concerned, similar assumptions and proclivities also appear to be in play. In political ideological contexts, once a ‘consumer’ has achieved some level of ‘buy in’, a probability exists they will become progressively assertive – receptive to seek, perhaps exclusively, views, perspectives, and opinions (online) regarding news and current events which resonate with them even further. Similarly, it should come as no surprise that there are various technologies and methodologies in place, and practiced globally, that distinguish and appeal to aspects of people’s political – ideological – personality inclinations, upon which purveyors of manufactured news endeavor to build on and exploit in furtherance of whatever advantage is being sought.
From a purely business perspective, appealing directly to people’s (prospective clients, buyers, consumers, etc.) personality baseline by presenting information in contexts intended to expose and presumably heighten and expand already present personality leanings to previously unaware levels. Proponents argue this practice is not about, nor is it intended to manipulate people’s likes and/or inclinations, i.e., personality. Rather, they argue, it is merely a matter of presenting ‘things – issues’ in a manner and contexts that resonate with certain personality types; obviously, those being targeted. Again, it should come as no surprise that, at various individualized points along the continuum of repetitively manufacturing ‘the news’, will likely influence – spark even more ideological polarization.
Cellphones present good examples of this. Evidence exists to indicate once a specific (targeted) user of a cellphone brand, who possess personality characteristics associated with introversion, desire to keep their cellphone in-close-proximity and consider it as a personal safety and security device, in addition to communication. Whereas cellphone users exhibiting personality characteristics associated with extroversion may be inclined to keep their cellphone close because it can keep them aware of – lead them to occurring (real time) events and/or activities which they may want to participate.
These examples reinforce a curiosity about whether people are – can become receptive to some manner-level of personality manipulation? In other words, when a topic-subject is framed, contextualized, or manufactured to address known views-opinions (personalities), some of which perhaps exist ‘under a person’s radar’, they may become influenced to accommodate (internalize) the interests being conveyed, irrespective of – without regard for whether it was manufactured, is not based in fact, or otherwise is fake.
Herein lies the seamless entrée for applying ‘political – ideological bots’. Bots are precision engineered algorithms. In this instance, bot algorithms are designed to scour – mine the Internet for current events and activities along with (relevant) descriptive language and phrasing. Essentially, a bot can assess how an event and associated language may be manipulated to masquerade as real news to reflect – accommodate particular and/or targeted political ideologies. through automated and pre-determined communications. Of course, bots cannot achieve this absent purposeful human input, i.e., writing algorithmic codes to collect data and achieve whatever ends are intended – sought.
Of course, there are numerous ways for characterizing and/or defining bots and what they do. What matters most, in my judgment, is that ‘bots’ are indeed a form of Internet robot, sometimes referred to as spiders or crawlers. Bots are often used to perform repetitive functions as in the above example of data-information mining, etc., and not infrequently, bots manifest – materialize as a form of malware used to gain control over a computer. Somewhat amazingly, bots can also be used to (automatically) interact with online messaging and websites. Too, malicious bots, generally possess a ‘worm-like capability to self- propagate’, often for nefarious purposes, e.g., to gather passwords, log keystrokes, obtain financial information, relay spam, capture and analyze information packets, launch ‘denial of service’ attacks, open back doors, and infect computers and system with harmful viruses. In other words, self-propagating (malware, malicious) bots can infect a host and then connect back to an initiators’ central server. The servers, in this instance, variously function as a ‘command and control centers’ for bot-nets which consist of networks of computers which have been compromised. Again, malicious bots are generally used – exploited to infect large numbers of computers and/or computing systems which in turn, form adverse bot networks or ‘botnets’.
Through my lens, a particularly trouble-some feature associated with some bots and botnets, is their intentional design to be surreptitious, variously camouflaged, and otherwise go undetected by a targeted host by, among other things, ‘hiding’ in regular system files and/or operating processes. Ultimately, bots are designed to continually search – mine the Internet to store – bank language and communications which can be applied (injected) at will (on demand) elsewhere. The execution of which can appear routine and is generally undetectable and undistinguishable insofar as the origins. In other words, bots are capable of deftly interjecting information, data, and/or language they have banked to a targeted circumstance with the intent to manipulate and/or alter the actual context of a real event.
(This post was influenced by and adapted by Michael D. Moberly from the BBC Radio program ‘Click’ hosted by Gareth Mitchell, titled ‘Technology and Fake News’.)
Michael D. Moberly August 14, 2017 St. Louis firstname.lastname@example.org ‘A blog where attention span really matters’. Part I