Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Vulnerable Targets of Social Engineering and Mind Manipulation

It is disturbing to learn that if social engineers identify you as older, prone to conspiracy theories, low-informed and/or less educated, working poor or black, they will target and bombard you with nonstop disinformation on social media at a level much higher than others.  Why?  To answer that question let's review the rules and strategies social engineers follow to bend the minds of the most vulnerable:
  1. Research has shown that less-informed and less-educated voters are more likely to believe falsehoods.
  2. Social engineers have found it is easy to mislead older people and those prone to conspiracy theories.  
  3. Those that already have a bent toward conspiracy theories are most inclined to spread unverified rumors.
  4. Social engineers understand that the most vulnerable to mind manipulation are the lower-middle class, working poor, elderly and blacks. These groups are driven by the insecurity of their place in society and in the economy. They’re easiest to influence by sharing stories that others are out to trick them and the world is out to get them. 
  5. Political professionals use social engineering campaigns to target audiences when they are most vulnerable to manipulation by leveraging influence techniques informed by behavioral science.
  6. Social engineers know how to amplify existing resentments and anxieties, raise the emotional stakes of particular issues, stir distrust, and subtly influence decisions about political behaviors.
  7. Social engineers combine psychological research and data-driven targeting to identify a person's and an audience's vulnerabilities.
  8. Social engineers understand that micro-targeting allows actors to target specific groups (or individuals), and to precisely control the timing, information, and sites of contact, so that they leverage psychological predispositions or vulnerabilities for maximum effect. 
  9. Social engineers use "nudges", which are strategies used to limit-choices in an audience.  They reinforce habits and traditional ways of thinking, which are resistant to new information and change. This effort reduces reflection and deliberation, and limits people's choices without their knowledge.
  10. Using Facebook's advertising platform social engineers can automatically expand the number of people a political campaign can target by identifying voters who have “common qualities” and others identified as “persuadable” and swing voters.
  11. Social engineers use "psychographic targeting" to create personalized content designed to influence and/or manipulate individuals or groups selected on the basis of their psychographic profiles.
  12. Professionals use social engineering techniques to affect an audience’s choices, ideas, opinions, emotions or motivations, and interfere with their decision-making processes.
  13. Social engineers work hard to develop “Filter Bubbles” that limit a vulnerable person's exposure to outside sources of views and opinions.  This lack of engagement with different ideas makes it difficult to offer factual correctives to disinformation circulating within filter bubbles.
  14. Social engineers understand how to find the right news to put in front of the right micro-targeted audiences.  They know what works and what doesn’t to influence a vulnerable person.
  15. Social engineers present “selected information to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately their behaviors.
  16. Social media and messaging platforms are used to harass and discourage specific individuals from taking part in public debate or taking specific actions.
  17. Social engineers draw attention to minor issues or actions in order to distract from the real - key issue.  Such activities tend to focus on the information environment, seeking to dilute, flood or poison it with alternative messages.
How long are we going to let this happen?  How long are we going to let our most vulnerable be manipulated without accountability?

Read more on the Future of Information, Truth and Influence here:
Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.