Corporate communications teams are grappling with the increasing complexity of disinformation attacks, as the landscape has expanded beyond traditional platforms.
Traditional keyword monitoring is no longer sufficient, as disinformation campaigns often employ code names, memes or videos to evade detection. With the emergence of alternative social media platforms such as Gab, Parler, 8kun and Truth Social, these teams face a new challenge in monitoring and mitigating toxicity across multiple channels.
To stay ahead, corporate communications teams must develop strategies to understand the virality and toxicity on both mainstream and alternative platforms. Solutions developed specifically to address this can help in monitoring share patterns by tracking the dissemination of content across multiple platforms, identifying trends in user engagement, and flagging potential disinformation networks.
This provides insights into the dynamics of these lesser-known platforms, allowing for more effective mitigation strategies.
Virality of Disinformation
The challenge is understanding the virality on the alternate platforms in addition to the virality on the common platforms. These platforms feed each other, often amplifying disinformation in a synergistic manner.
For example, a disinformation campaign may begin on an alternative platform like 8kun, where a false narrative is seeded and gains traction. Users on this platform may create memes, videos or coded language to spread the disinformation. These materials then get shared on more mainstream platforms, where they reach a broader audience. At the same time, users on mainstream platforms may reference and link back to the original discussions on alternative platforms, further legitimizing the narrative and driving more traffic to those sites.
Another example is when influencers on alternative platforms like Gab or Parler share disinformation and their followers, in turn, share the content on mainstream platforms. This cross-pollination helps the disinformation reach more users, creating a feedback loop that amplifies its impact.
As the false narrative spreads, it becomes increasingly difficult for corporate communications teams to track and mitigate its effects, especially when it is shared across multiple platforms and in various formats.
Corporate comms teams need to have the tools, technologies and insights across and within these alternate lesser-known platforms. A comms team that only monitors, mitigates and responds to the attack at the traditional platforms could miss the early signs of an attack, the hidden networks propagating disinformation, and the full extent of the narrative's reach. This could leave a company's brand and reputation exposed to unaddressed risks and damage, such as loss of consumer trust, negative public perception, potential legal issues and even a decline in stock value.
By not fully understanding all the dimensions of the attack, the effectiveness of the response and mitigation efforts may be significantly reduced, leaving the organization vulnerable to ongoing and future disinformation campaigns.
Corporate communications teams need an overarching strategy for the management and integration of all their communications initiatives, with an understanding of the content and dynamics of each platform, fringe and mainstream. This approach allows teams to access valuable insights without having to directly engage with potentially harmful content or exposing themselves to the risks associated with interacting on these platforms.
Trolls will manipulate news and information, from a company or from another source, distorting the truth to their advantage. Stock manipulators may base their attacks on distortion of corporate commentary or trolls. Or there may be technical financial details that can be distorted to obtain the stock manipulation they seek. Nation-states look to create vast conspiracy theories, sometimes on a more macro-scale. Employees or other individuals may get ensnared in unrelated posts that can quickly be manipulated by trolls and others against the company.
For example, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, disinformation campaigns proliferated across various platforms. One such case was the "Plandemic" conspiracy theory video, which went viral on mainstream platforms, as well as on alternative platforms such as BitChute. The video contained numerous false claims about the pandemic and public health measures. Despite efforts to remove the video from mainstream platforms, it continued to spread on alternative sites and through various formats, making it challenging to fully counter the disinformation.
Another example is the "QAnon" conspiracy theory, which originated on alternative platforms like 4chan and 8kun before spreading to mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The theory gained traction through coded language, memes and videos, making it difficult for corporate communications teams to detect and counter.
Corporate comms pros must be able to monitor each of the platforms independently and also aggregate posts into narratives across the platforms to understand the virality of the narrative as a whole, while highlighting where the disinformation began and where it is evolving.
Utilizing a solution that understands share-patterns of the influencers and sub-groups of accounts (human and bot) is mandatory. Knowing who is saying what, and the human reach of that account is vitally important in understanding and forecasting how disinformation might spread.
Many corporate communications pros are familiar with the operational elements of the mainstream platforms. Unfortunately, the same operational concepts do not always apply for the fringe platforms. How alternative platforms share information can be complicated. Having a monitoring partner who can provide those insights, who lives and breathes these alternative platforms, is a critical component of a corporate comms education as they monitor these platforms.
Dismantling Disinformation Campaigns
“Dismantling” disinformation campaigns is not always the best option. It is sometimes best to let the disinformation die out rather than confronting it. The corporate communications team must have the ability to forecast potential virality of a specific narrative within and across fringe and mainstream platforms.
In the case where the platform does have terms of service or fact-checking mechanisms, working with the platform directly is an option. The comms team can submit mitigation requests to those social media platforms that do have mechanisms for account takedowns or labeling.
Alternatively, the comms team may want to partner with a company that provides mitigation services for multiple organizations. These partners will have automated many of the submission processes necessary for mitigation. And, the partner will be logging all the submissions. This is important since the mitigation may not happen on the first request. Mitigation partners will continue to re-apply with the social media platform as more clients experience the same situation.
If a platform refuses to comply with requests to remove or counter disinformation, corporate communications teams should:
- Closely monitor the narrative and its reach across all platforms.
- Consider publicly addressing the disinformation through official statements or social media.
- Collaborate with influencers and stakeholders to disseminate accurate information.
- Strengthen the company's digital resilience by building trust and credibility with customers and partners.
- Learn from past incidents to develop more effective strategies for future disinformation campaigns.
Brand protection and reputation management have become increasingly complex with the growth of technologies and bad actors. AI technologies such as GPT will be utilized for attacks and must be part of the corporate communications counter-attack toolkit.
Recognizing that the surface area has grown significantly beyond the traditional platforms and understanding the underlying dynamics of these alternative, lesser known platforms is throwing corporate communications teams into the deep end of the pool.
Bill Hurley is Head of Revenue at VineSight.