A Thanksgiving Recipe for navigating misinformation with family and friends

A good resource is “How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda in National and World News” by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder.
Challenge naysayers around you to show gratitude – at home, work, the grocery story, online – everywhere. The benefits of gratitude is good for your mind, body, and health. Some ideas on ways to show gratitude: compliment your loved ones, be the positive energy in the office, serve others when and where opportunities exists, especially those in the hospitality industry, and thank those who challenge you.

If all else fails, change the conversation – share a cute animal video, rave about grandma’s mashed potatoes or start the classic debate about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie.
Ending conversations that are too heated or have hit a lull can be challenging. In these cases, do not mistake the power of non-verbal communication that can politely close a conversation. Simple gestures like gazing into the distance, making eye contact with someone else, or pointing your feet in another direction can be civil way to exit.

Remember: with the correct angle and velocity, a turkey leg will bounce and take out multiple arguments quickly, and concisely.

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoyed our special edition of Overwatch.

Share this Thanksgiving recipe with others, as well as any additional tips!

Narratives Going into the Congressional Election

The United States is preparing for the 117th congressional race. There are 469 seats in the U.S. Congress, comprised of 34 Senate seats and 435 House seats for election on November 8, 2022. While there is ample coverage of presidential elections, Congress is as, if not more important, in our system of checks and balances. Candidates have begun their political campaigns by keying into voters’ social media timelines, news feeds, televisions, commutes, mailboxes, and more.  

As political campaigns launch, social media platforms, like Meta, are learning from previous elections and plan to combat misinformation by investing millions of dollars to combat dis-/mis- information from spreading on their platforms. For example, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is investing an additional $5 million in fact-checking. The proposed intent is to protect election integrity and avoid campaigns from leaning into polarizing topics to seed propaganda that quickly impacts the polls or makes it challenging for voters to decipher fact from fiction.  

As Assistant Professor of Communications at the University of Arizona, Dam Hee Kim observed politicians, the media, and voters have become the scapegoats for the harms of fake news. Few of them produce misinformation. Most is produced by foreign entities and political fringe groups who create the content for financial or ideological purpose. This is where foreign entities or domestic bots will achieve their greatest effect. Another aspect will be that the misinformation will manifest in congressional races as representatives have to campaign every two years and done so without extensive social media or public affairs support. 

In this issue of Overwatch, analysts examine the current trends to see what topics generated strong responses from different electoral bases as politicians attempt to influence and swing the voter electorate.  

The 2020 Census Apportionment 

One key factor impacting the midterm elections is the recent 2020 census apportionment. Six states (Texas, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon) gained seats in the U.S. House, while seven (California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) lost seats.  

This reapportionment will shift campaign strategies, forcing them to hone in on keywords with the most significant influence for voting power in the hopes of ‘flipping’ red or blue states. This will be true, especially for states with a larger number of delegates, like California, Texas, and Florida. This approach will permeate the current political discourse, creating an environment ideal for actors in the field of dis- and misinformation. Their goal, regardless of political party, is to create friction.  

Invasion 

“Invasion” is the current mainstream political dialogue addressed in campaigns around the immigration situation at the U.S. Southern border, partly due to mis- and disinformation campaigns by advocates on both sides of the debate.  

The term “invasion” in academic and open-source material is attributed to the extremist or white nationalist race replacement theory. Candidates evoking invasion are quickly labeled as racist, nationalist, or extremist by those who are pro-immigration. This classification provokes a strong emotional response, preventing an examination of potential solutions. For right-wing candidates, invasion elicits strong emotional responses highlighting the threat of loss of country and identity. This also promotes an intense sense of crisis, requiring rebuttals from political opponents.  

In a recent example, Texas is bussing immigrants from Texas to New York and Washington, DC. This event is generating strong reactions from both sides of the political divide. From the left, the narrative remains ensconced in racist policies, highlighting the singling out of offloading immigrants into the bigger cities and the unnecessary wasteful spending on a political stunt. For the conservative or right-wing candidates, the move is seen as challenging perceived liberal, misguided views on immigration. This is further amplified in comment strings of video clips showing immigrants arriving in New York and Washington DC. City officials are requesting additional aid from the Federal Government, and the National Guard is seen as vindication among the right-wing affiliated groups claiming the efforts are a drain on local U.S. resources.  

Election Integrity  

The ongoing perceptions and claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 presidential election will have a halo effect on the congressional primaries. Candidates are utilizing the talking point of election integrity to distance themselves from the “stop the steal” and/or “the election was stolen” while attempting to retain supporters with strong misgivings about the elections. The counter theme is to brand these conservative candidates as election deniers, extremists, or threats to democracy.  

Insurrection 

For many congressional campaigns, ‘insurrection’ was a keyword used in marketing messages, especially sparked by the most recent Mar-A-Lago raid. From the left, the trend was using phrases such as “armed insurrection” or “attempted coup d’état” to evoke a strong emotional response and tag them as extremists. In addition, trends emphasized attributing definitions of insurrection to images from that day.  

For conservative campaigns, the events of January 6 were de-emphasized in terms of the severity of the day’s events. Many candidates, particularly at the congressional level, utilized “trespassing” or a misdemeanor when describing the charges levied at protesters. This also is strongly linked to deep state inferences that the government was using or outright staging of the January 6 events. The January 6 event is also described in lower profile campaign races as a false flag operation by the government, with one instance comparing it to the 1933 Reichstag Burning, associating the Nazis staging the event to impose additional measures on the population.  

The other narrative is to focus on the unfairness of the January 6 committee. It is associated with their investigation as a mechanism to stir passion and anger at the government or, more precisely, the opposing political party.  

Assessment 

Going into the congressional election, Overwatch analysts anticipate narratives around invasion, integrity, and insurrection to continue, if not be amplified by misinformation. One researcher noted that “dis- and misinformation has allowed opposing sides to establish their own set of facts and attributes of responsibility.” This has enabled narratives on both sides of the coin to move from the margins to mainstream political discourse.  

Social platforms intent to secure the integrity of the election will be met with dynamic and more sophisticated content as the campaign season progresses. Beyond the digital landscape, we predict misinformation to extend to offline – small events in backyards, churches, restaurants, and community centers, transforming or expanding to social media through edited photos or video clips, adding to social media noise, challenging voters to decipher what is news and what is noise.  

For insurrection, we will see terminology like “armed,” “Nazi,” and “violent extremist” being promoted. At the same time, right-wing platforms and bots will amplify content that frames January 6 as a false flag or deep state operation and focus on the ongoing detention of protestors. Efforts will amplify government reactions or lack thereof to previous protests promulgated by Antifa and/or BLM.  

For this brief, Overwatch analysts utilized the Discover, Develop, and Monitor (D2M) methodology framework. During Discovery, the focus was on identifying those important keywords and some basic context to those words. In the area of immigration, we saw the word “Invasion” emerging as a descriptor. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, campaigns keyed in on phrases like ‘Election Integrity” or “Election deniers.” The words “Insurrection” and/or “J/6” or “January 6” were also consistently in play.  

Overwatch analysts investigated further to see if these keywords expanded into more fluid segments/platforms across social media. The result showed the recent search warrant or raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence is currently dominating the mediascape, but this is likely to blend into the deep state that is coming for the average citizen narrative emerging from the wake of January 6 and the ensuing January 6 commission.   

Overwatch will continue to monitor campaign trends between the congressional election and provide updated briefs as necessary.  

 

Dispelling Misinformation About Monkeypox 2.0

On July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a Global Health Emergency as a result of a rising number of outbreaks. Overwatch’s previous brief, entitled “Dispelling Misinformation About Monkeypox,” addressed fundamental issues surrounding the disease. From the time of the brief on May 24, 2022, to the writing of this brief, the number of confirmed monkeypox cases has grown from two confirmed cases in the United States to now 8,933, and globally, the cases have risen from 92 cases as of May 7, 2022, to 30,189.

Monkeypox Chart

In this brief, Overwatch analysts review how the narrative for monkeypox has evolved. Since the announcement from the WHO, there has continued to be a flood of misinformation, disinformation, and finger-pointing about the origin and reasons for the continued spread of the disease.

Misinformation Fuels Disinformation

The original assessment noted, “If misinformation spreads to countries like China or Russia, they could spread disinformation about the U.S. and Europe being responsible for the virus as was done with COVID-19.”

Since May, we have seen many articles in traditional mainstream news and publicly available sites and platforms conducting their journalistic responsibilities by questioning the U.S. response. Analysts identified occasional loose comparisons to the U.S. response to COVID-19 and questions about why we did not act against the new pandemic threat.

In most cases, articles addressed reasons, and promoters of disinformation used snippets or headlines to create unfounded accusations. Analysts have seen messages by pro-CCP group Wumao, claiming that the U.S. and Western countries are sending infected birds to spread monkeypox to China and other Asian countries. Wumao, or the 50cent army, is a pro-CCP group that creates comments or articles intended to derail negative sentiment toward the CCP.

The intent is to create more division and blame. The Chinese narratives emerged in May and have continued unabated but are largely overlooked in the U.S. digital environment.

Example of translated WhatsApp message spread throughout Indonesia:

Hey, guys. No matter where you are, if you see a bird that can’t fly, can’t walk or struggle on the ground, you should never catch it, for fear of monkeypox infection. The relevant community has informed you, please pay attention to it. Remember United States and Western countries used the birds to carry take the Monkeypox virus to spread to the Asian region! My sister sent it from Germany and asked me to inform family and friends immediately. Have relatives and friends on the notice, do not because of compassion, get infected unknowingly.

好友轉來告知:
各位。不管在那,看見不能飛,不能走,在地上掙扎的鳥,千萬不能抓,怕是猴痘傳染,有關社區己通知,望大家注意。切記!以上美國和西方國家對亞洲地區通過鳥類可以帶猴痘病毒傳染到亞洲地區!我妹妹從德國傳來的,要我立刻通知親友。有親友就通知一下,別因為心慈悲染痘害人

This message was baseless and allegedly produced by Wumao. References to the message were accompanied by keywords such as ’‘hoax’ and ‘fake story’ and have been mainly seen on Indonesian information platforms1.

This has illuminated that the CCP wants a vector of influence in Indonesia and surprisingly enough, there are truth watch dogs actively combating it. (Fitri Haryanti Harsono from Liputan6 and Dr. Adrian Wong from Techarp.com).

Other sources, such as the New Federal State of China (NFSC) Himalaya Australia, combat CCP influence by generating more false narratives compounding monkeypox misinformation. This can be incredibly dangerous when dealing with sensitive issues relating to pandemics or global health crises.

This post by the NFSC’s Miles Guo was spread across all major social media platforms3. There is an air of provocation in Guo’s voice as he speaks in his video of the CCPs potential retaliation due to the recent Taiwan visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In this video (*reference Wayback Machine if taken down from Twitter), Guo alleges that the CCP will create a new virus that will “most likely originate from the Middle East” and would be a variant of other diseases or created by “mating” desert wildlife.

The art of being first is how disinformation campaigns gain traction. The above post is meant to provoke the CCP into a response, legitimizing Guo and NFSC_HAGnews’ narrative. Being first in the narrative allows the NFSC_HAGNews to gain a following that observes the accused (CCP), having to combat quickly drafted messages of the accuser (NFSC_HAGNews).

As the number of verified infections grows, disinformation narratives will grow. Small enablers exacerbating public opinion in the U.S. will continue to add compelling and thought-provoking ideas on top of any press release or news article to capture and hold an audience’s attention.

* Specific posts or videos referencing misinformation and disinformation are often deleted from major social media and news sites. Using the Wayback machine, researchers can reference once deleted posts, articles, and videos that were archived. The Miles Guo video has been captured here in the Wayback Machine.

Targeted LGBTQ Community

What has taken hold of the U.S. social media landscape is the predominance of infections within the gay community, triggering emotional responses outside and within the community, in both pro and anti-camps. The CDC’s confirmation of the first monkeypox cases in the United States in two unrelated children at the end of July 2022 was when this was most apparent. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky made the following statement in a virtual event with the Washington Post, “Both of those children are traced back to individuals who come from the men-who-have-sex-with-men community, the gay men’s community…” The official statement released by the CDC went further on to state that both cases were “likely the result of household transmission.” And even though the release states that sexual contact is not the only way to spread the disease and heterosexuals can contract monkeypox just as quickly as persons who identify as “gay,” the polarizing narratives began almost immediately. On the same day of the updated release Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene asked in a tweet, “If monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” The tweet has over 38k likes and 9,879 retweets as of this writing.

The formula is textbook: CDC officials or public officials provide the most current information possible, a prominent official or social media influencer makes a rhetorical comment, and the ensuing chain of response allows disinformation narratives to flow into the larger conversation.

From the creation of fake memes pushing a particular narrative, such as the one created by Twitter user “The Ferryman’s Toll,” that has been retweeted 281 times.

To the reports of hate crimes being committed towards LGBTQ members, such as an August 9, 2022, report by the Daily News (Assuncao, 2022) that a Washington, D.C. gay couple was attacked by teens who called them “monkeypox f—-s.”

When facts are disregarded in order to increase one’s number of supporters, likes, or political status, echo chambers are created, and the ensuing misinformation and disinformation propagated within them can have disastrous results. Echo chambers exist because social media users do not take personal responsibility for information shared, and sharing occurs without full context or conducting further research, which can prevent polarizing narratives before they divert attention from the main issue.

World Health Organization (WHO) Perspective

The WHO closely monitors the outbreak and favors international cooperation and information sharing with partners and member states. Since the declaration, their messaging has been in line with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding how an individual contracts the virus. However, while WHO states in one tweet that “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus and can fuel the outbreak,” WHO also has multiple tweets singling out the Men of the LGBTQ community.

Unfortunately, discriminatory tweets are becoming increasingly popular. While WHO’s messaging around monkeypox has focused on those currently most affected by the spread of the disease, gay men, there is an underlying danger that this approach could add fuel to the narrative that this is a disease affecting gay men only. As with Covid 19, when government messaging transforms to fit the new realities of a crisis, old messaging is often resurfaced and contorted to create disinformation. While Twitter can be an efficient medium to publish alerts, the lack of context allowed by character limits can often limit qualifying statements and the addition of vital context.

Our Assessment

We assess that misinformation and disinformation messaging will closely follow the increased number of those infected with monkeypox. This issue’s vector of influence won’t just stay within the confines of the United States. We have already demonstrated that anti-US and anti-CCP influencers are attempting to control the story in Asia and possibly the Middle East.

We stand by our original assessment that if outbreak numbers exceed acceptable levels, the likelihood of quarantines or mandatory government policies could be implemented to mitigate the spread of infection. If this happens, combined with negative popular sentiment due to successful disinformation messaging, we could see in-person protests leading to pockets of civil unrest.

Overwatch will continue to monitor Monkeypox-related issues arising in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Russia, and the U.S.

*Keyword associations to keep on alert; supply chain disruption, lockdown, mandatory vaccination, quarantine, Monkeypox, MPV, MPXV, contact tracing, or hMPXV.

*Google Alerts allows you to create a list of keywords to follow and have articles and posts sent daily to your email

OSINT Monitor Workflow

IBM Watson News Explorer

Gigatweeter

SocialBlade

Tgstat

CDC Infection Rate Map

World Health Organization

 

 

Sources

  1. Adrian Wong, Is U.S. Sending Infected Birds To Spread Monkeypox?!

 https://www.techarp.com/facts/us-birds-monkeypox-china/

Anas Surya, Hoaxes Of The United States And European Countries Deliberately SpreadIng Monkey Pox To Asia – NEW OR HOAX

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8cxsji

Fitri Haryanti Harsono, Viral message chain of transmission of Monkeypox carried by birds, is it?

Viral Pesan Berantai Penularan Cacar Monyet Dibawa oleh Burung, Apa Iya? – Health Liputan6.com (www-liputan6-com.translate.goog)

World Today, Viral message chain of transmission of monkeypox carried by birds, is it? https://www.world-today-news.com/viral-message-chain-of-transmission-of-monkeypox-carried-by-birds-is-it/

  1. Miles Guo, The CCP will most likely unleash another new virus!

https://gettr.com/post/p1lbsb5b7bb , (2) NFSC_HAGnews (@NFSC_HAGnews) / Twitter , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrAmk2N5VQI , Chinese whistleblower Miles Guo: “Monkeypox is just an excuse! (bitchute.com)

  1. Muri Assuncao, Washington, D.C. gay couple say they were attacked by 2 teens, who called them ‘monkeypox f—-ts’

https://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/ny-dc-couple-attacked-teens-homophobic-slur-monkeypox-20220809-wvu3e627tzanxov4mprny6j3le-story.html

  1. World Health Organization (WHO) Twitter Page https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1552286397054287875

How a Culture of Being First Fuels Information Disorder

According to Pew Research, we live in a digitally connected world where 71% of Americans turn to social media platforms to get their news content. We no longer are limited to conversing with friends at school or our colleagues in the office; in a matter of seconds, we can broadcast news traveling across the globe – every like, retweet, or share, adding credibility to the original post regardless of its factual authenticity.  The original version of a story can quickly be shared, becoming a digital telephone game where the narrative has morphed into an entirely different story.  Social media has given us an incredible opportunity to learn more about the world, connect with people, and learn things we would have never known otherwise, but with any great innovation comes tremendous responsibility.

In this brief, Overwatch reports some of the significant events leading to the growth of misinformation, examples, and the impact it has on today’s society, economy, and businesses.

Information Overload Leading to Information Disorder

 Today, an incredible amount of information is available at our digital fingertips.  It is estimated that at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are added to the internet daily. Google alone processes approximately 63,000 search queries every second, translating to 5.6 billion daily searches and about 2 trillion global searches annually.  The average person conducts between three and four daily searches, exposing us to multiple perspectives and opinions of every news story. Even then, as people turn to the world’s best search engine, former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, tells the world that 99% of the data is hidden.

This means it will become more difficult to spot what Dr. Wardle and Dr. Derakhshan call information disorder.

What is Information Disorder?

Claire Wardle, Ph.D., and Hossein Derakhshan reframe fake news as information disorder, a spectrum that ranges from falseness to intent to harm. Breaking the concept into specific terms helps us understand how it operates and causes harm. Wardle and Derakhshan use a Venn diagram to explain information disorder as having three parts, including:

  • Misinformation: Some spread false information without the intent to spread harm. People spreading misinformation believe it to be true before sharing it with others.
  • Disinformation: People may spread information to cause harm or manipulate people.  Disinformation describes lies people tell for money, influence, or to cause disorder.
  • Malinformation: Information that may be true but is spread with malicious intent or taken out of context.  Examples include divulging private information or manipulating facts to fit a false narrative.

Source: Wardle and Derakhshan, 2017

Information Disorder Examples

  • The Mueller Report found that during the 2016 Presidential election, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), in a bid to “provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States,” purchased over 3,500 advertisements, totaling $100,000, which were “falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists.”
  • UNICEF reported that with increased digital use comes increased exposure to mis-/dis-information: in one 2020 study, 76 percent of 14–24-year-olds reported seeing online mis-/dis-information at least once a week, a rise of 50 percent from the previous two years.
  • In 2019, Cybersecurity firm CHEQ, in conjunction with University of Baltimore professor Robert Cavazos, estimates that $78 billion is lost annually to disinformation. CHEQ stated, “Fake news isn’t just a term coined by a politician; Fake news isn’t just buzz.  Fake news isn’t something that was born recently in terms of being anecdotal.  Fake news is a major, major problem.  At these figures, fake news is almost controlling our lives, who we vote for, what we decide to do, what we consume, and so on and so forth.” According to the study, the areas most significantly impacted are health misinformation, which includes anti-vaccination stories, financial misinformation that leads to significant stock drops, the amount of money brands lose to disinformation, and the amount of money people spend to repair their reputations because of misinformation.
  • In December 2017, ABC News falsely reported that Michael Flynn would testify that President Trump instructed him to contact Russian government officials during the campaign. This reporting led to shares plummeting an estimated $341 billion on the S&P that day.  The story was corrected after the trading day ended, but it was too late; the overall loss was estimated to be $51 billion.

Whether we trust the news or not, news stories tremendously impact our daily economy and business decisions.  There has been significant research in this area over the past few years.  A research team led by Alison Holman and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, reported in their article published by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), reinforced that being first, and getting it wrong, can be detrimental to our health.  “It turns out that news coverage is far more than a benign source of facts.  From our attitudes to immigrants to the content of our dreams, it can sneak into our subconscious and meddle with our lives in surprising ways.  It can lead us to miscalculate certain risksshape our views of foreign countries, and possibly influence the health of entire economies.  It can increase our risk of developing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.  Now there’s emerging evidence that the emotional fallout of news coverage can even affect our physical health – increasing our chances of having a heart attack or developing health problems years later.”

The Assessment

The information age is still in its infancy, and innovation speed is ever-increasing.  Our exposure to more information will only increase as advanced technologies are invented, making us more reliant on the Internet of Things (IoT).  In turn, the challenge will be sifting through the vast amounts of information to make informed decisions in a timely manner.

Information disorder has proven to impact our infrastructure, our economy, and even divided our communities.  Fortunately, there are technologies available to assist us with finding accurate information faster, but they are not being developed at a pace to keep up with the spread of information.  To manage the impact of information disorder, we must emphasize critical thinking skills and continue investing in technologies that enable businesses and the government to identify and validate content.

Critical thinking is a crucial skill set to empower us to share accurate information for practical analysis.  One of the best ways to improve your critical thinking skills is by reading books published by The Critical Thinking Foundation, including The Thinker’s Guide to How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda, which provides the reader with an entire critical thinking framework to spot and assess propaganda.

Here are the questions they suggest we ask ourselves when analyzing and interpreting news stories:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What point of view is being privileged?
  • What point(s) of view is (are) being dismissed or played down?
  • How can I gain access to the point of view negated (from those who most intelligently understand it)?
  • Which stories are featured on the front page and why?
  • What information is “buried” in the article and why?

This data is an excellent example of why Open-Source Intelligence is an emerging field and why companies adopting the discipline early will have a competitive advantage before it becomes necessary.  In short, whether you are a consumer, the media, or a brand, you could save a great deal of money by doing your due diligence in validating the information you read online and sharing responsibly.