Information Operations: An Evidence-Based Approach

fake newsThe role of hostile information campaigns is becoming increasingly apparent in most contemporary events. In particular, a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research on social media use during the US elections and UK Brexit suggests that information diffusion can amplify public’s sentiments, thus contributing to the voter outcomes. Furthermore, as emphasized in a Demos report on hostile actions in the information domain, “the past decade has seen democracies around the world become a target of a new kind of information operations[.]”

In response to the lack of appropriate definitions, descriptions, and labels, the authors propose a framework that explains the aims, strategies, tactics, and actors who play essential roles in these hostile operations. Underscoring the complexity of this subject, the authors aim to facilitate better understanding of how information operations shape popular opinions and global politics.

The report provides the following key findings:

  • Information operations go beyond “fake news” in scale, chosen targets, strategies, and tactics;
  • Much of shared information is not “fake”; instead it involves selectively truthful agenda-driven information based on amplification of reputable media sources;
  • Many cases of information operations do not contain fact statements, thus making fact-checking a tool of only limited effectiveness;
  • Information operations typically appear in erratic bursts of activity and are likely to exploit preexisting cultural and social divisions;
  • While most information operations are coordinated, they are also inconsistent across language, timing, subject-matter and geography; and
  • Both non-state and state-aligned actors engage in information operations.

Currently, the responses to such operations lack broader understanding of the evolving threat and fail to engage various levels of policymakers, society, and governments. As the objectives of information operations can involve social, political, or economic gains, any successful preventative action will require a much broader approach to the problem. Specifically, the campaigns involving weaponization of information will require “a coalition across government, the military, technology and civil society to predict, identify, take precautions against, and if necessary respond to their use.”

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