Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Echo Chambers Involving Old and New Media

Twitter has been widely credited with influencing the 2016 US presidential election.  Not because lot's of voters read tweets, but because lot's of journalists do.  Many of these journalists work for traditional media, which includes TV, radio, newspapers, newsletters, etc.  The sheer volume of controversial tweets generated ensured that journalists looked no further than Twitter for topics to cover.  This kept the spotlight on those who understood how both traditional and social media works, and were skilled at exploiting it.

Journalists and their editors understand that controversy and outrage are good for business. CBS's executive Les Moonves was quoted in 2016 as saying, "the Trump phenomenon may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." And by now we all know that social media algorithms thrive on engagement, and there is no better tool for engagement than tweeting outrageous things.  The cacophony of controversy fueled both traditional media's and new medias' business models.  A win for all media - if not necessarily for democracy.

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. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

How Social Engineering Works on Our Brains

Social engineering has proven it is possible to know the societal or 'systematic' determinants of human 'behavior' in a way that permits them to be manipulated and controlled from afar. 
Our minds are vulnerable.  The weaknesses in our thinking and decision-making processes are well documented.  When these vulnerabilities and weaknesses are exposed to professionals with nefarious intent who are trained in social engineering techniques bad things happen.  Social media and messaging platforms both enable scaled access to and profit from these vulnerabilities.  They expose the brains of billions (Facebook has over 2.7 billion users) to these techniques by selling and promoting access to our innermost feelings and emotions. 

It is critical that we as humans, neighbors and communities understand how social engineering techniques work on our brains and our societies.  We must recognize these methodologies so we can defend against them.  We need to identify them and call them out.  We must warn others. We must legislate against these techniques and hold social media and messaging platforms accountable.

Social media apps and platforms are used by our children, the elderly and everyone in between.  These platforms give direct access to our brains.  They support mind manipulation at scale.  What follows is an extensive, although incomplete list of the strategies, tools and techniques of social engineering I have gleaned from literally hundreds or articles, academic papers and reports.  I have organized them into six categories: Amplify and Promote, Constraining, Emotions and Motivations, Mind Manipulation, Personal Information and Strategies and Tactics.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Disinformation is Both Expensive and Deadly

The Covid-19 pandemic ambushed businesses and global economies.  Since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March 2020, job loss has been one of the most significant consequences. The U.S. has recently reached a total of 60 million unemployment claims, while loss to the US GDP is estimated to be around $7.6 trillion.  

In addition, a recent survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank revealed that 9 million small firms in the US are at risk of closing for good in 2021 as a result of the pandemic.  The International Monetary Fund estimated the total cost to the global economy from Covid-19 will ultimately top $28 trillion in lost output (the time frame was years 2020-2025).  

Monday, April 12, 2021

Social Engineering Escapes the War Zone

The phrase social engineering splashed into the public's view as a result of actions from a cluster of companies whose services focused on influencing and manipulating people's thinking.  The history of these companies is complex, but seems to have all started with Strategic Communication Laboratories, which became SCL Ltd, then it became SCL Group, which then created a subsidiary called Behavioral Dynamics Institute (BDI) and another subsidiary infamously known as Cambridge Analytica, a company that was intimately involved in influencing US voters during the 2016 elections.  Cambridge Analytica stated at the time that their expertise was in "behavior change," "military influence campaigns," "psychographic segmentation" and other types of mind-manipulation.

SCL Group's services focused on psychological operations (psyops), which is a strategy to alter people's minds through the use of rumours, disinformation, bots, fictitious accounts and fake news.  The BDI subsidiary claimed they had several leading psychologists and strategists on staff that developed tools to better understand audiences and to shape their behaviors.  They claimed they had invested over $25 million USD in developing scientific approaches for "influencing target audiences." They provided services such as delivering training in counter-Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe funded by the Government of Canada, as well as conducting research on target audience analysis which has influenced counter-insurgency doctrine.