Background: The facts that inspired CoPsyCon

Not long after the unexpected results of the 2016 US election, the US intelligence community collectively published a declassified summary entitled Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections, a joint statement from the FBI, CIA, and NSA unequivocally stating that Russian state-sponsored actors had interfered in the election. Since then, it would be an understatement to say that the plot has thickened. Russia’s role has received copious media attention, and is the primary target of Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe. However, less attention has been given to other facts of the acute threat. In particular, the methods that take advantages of weaknesses in our political and media systems would not be remediated by identifying and punishing Russian perpetrators and their collaborators. The same threats to democracy, freedom, and the integrity of American systems would still be vulnerable to attack from other state or, more disturbingly, non-state actors. There is evidence that non-state actors, specifically mega-wealthy oligarchs, are currently using the same tools towards the same goal of disrupting America.

The first article I read that alerted me to the threats of big-data-based marketing tools applied to political manipulation by non-state actors was the article The Data That Turned the World Upside Down, translated from German and published on 2017 Jan 28 by Vice Motherboard, which described Cambridge Analytica,  botnets, and political manipulation. I already knew about work on big data and politics from colleagues who worked for other companies doing similar work, but this article suggested that it was already powerful, and being used by hostile actors against the US.

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked, published in the UK Observer on 2017 May 7, describes the use of similar tools by the same actors to manipulate the political process in the UK in favor of Brexit.

Mother Jones published an article on 2017 Apr 4, Twitter Has a Serious Problem—And It’s Actually a Bigger Deal Than People Realize: Bots can undermine democracy, which presented a detailed analysis of how Twitter botnets are used to spread disinformation and manipulate the media and political narrative, and points out the difficult challenges in solving this problem.

Paste Magazine published How the Trump-Russia Data Machine Games Google to Fool Americans on 2017 June 1, which describes another tool in the disinformation arsenal: search engine optimization. This article also describes how a specific false disinformation narrative, was broadcasted and amplified in a planned chronology to counter the real breaking news of Trump’s meeting with Russians in the Oval Office.

As early as 2005, the military was warned of the potential threat of “meme warfare”. Mike Prosser wrote a thesis titled MEMETICS—A GROWTH INDUSTRY IN US MILITARY OPERATIONS for the United States Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting. Later, in 2011 October at the Social Media for Defense Summit in Alexandria, Virginia, Dr. Robert Finkelstein presented a Tutorial on Military Memetics.

And yet, the Department of Defense Cyber Strategy, presented by USCYBERCOM in 2015 April, has no mention whatsoever of “meme”, “memetic”, “disinformation”, or anything about media manipulation, social media, or any other related topics.

CoPsyCon exists because this blind spot in the US defense system critically needs to be filled.

 

 

 

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