Automating Influence: The Manipulation of Public Debate

By Andrew Trabulsi – While the application of influence campaigns for the purposes of altering public discourse and politics are rapidly gaining prominence, it’s a field, as discussed in previous writings, with a detailed past.

Tasked with winning the moral high ground during World War I, the famed British propaganda unit, Wellington House, distributed evocative, explicit reports of German barbarism to bolster public opinion in favor of the Allies. At a time before the interminable ubiquity of Internet communications, this tactic proved invaluable in securing the attention and support of the Allies’ war effort, improving recruiting and persuading neutrals.

Today, we see such tactics—albeit in different, non-traditional fashions—show up across case studies, for both political and commercial purposes. In a similar vein to the manipulation of public commentary on net neutrality, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed adjusting its rules to stunt abuse within payday lending markets, it too was berated with an abnormal number of duplicate and semantically similar comments.

As political and economic issues become increasingly influenced by technological engagement, it’s becoming more and more important to understand the limitations and vulnerabilities of such systems. more>

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