In 2019 I wrote an article for PoliceOne on the need for police agencies to prepare for the Disinformation Era – https://www.policeone.com/chiefs-sheriffs/articles/why-le-needs-to-prepare-for-the-disinformation-era-8AgmShfpEXwW1RrK/
Unfortunately in the midst of this worldwide crisis we are seeing real world harm in our local communities coming from misinformation and disinformation being shared on social media. Police agencies of all sizes need to be prepared to handle the real-life consequences of these trends. If you knew this pandemic was coming you would have been better prepared. I can tell you that a disinformation “infodemic” is already here. Furthermore, several more disinformation infodemics are on their way and you need to prepare your communities now.
#misinformation comes from people who mean well but share things that are untrue.
#disinformation is false information coming from people with bad intentions. Some of these people are systematically targeting Americans from overseas.
The term, “Going Viral” is often attributed to harmless and even positive things like cute puppy & cat videos. Viral videos or stories spread from one person to the next just as a virus is transmitted. Sadly, bad information can be spread exactly like a virus as well. Each day of the COVID-19 pandemic leaves all of us in a highly vulnerable state to catch & spread false information “viruses”
What are the types of misinformation and disinformation?
First Draft has a great breakdown of 7 types of Mis- and Disinformation: https://firstdraftnews.org/latest/fake-news-complicated/
Satire or Parody – Content that is not intended to cause harm but which can fool people into thinking it is real
False Connection – Content that includes a headline, visual or caption that does not support the content of a story. “Click Bait” would be the most common example
False Context – When genuine content is shared with false contextual information
Misleading Content – When misleading information is used to frame an issue or individual
Impostor Content – Disinformation where genuine sources are impersonated in order to spread false information
Manipulated Content – Disinformation using real information or imagery that has been altered to deceive people
Fabricated Content – Disinformation where content is newly created and designed to do harm
Buzzfeed News has multiple examples of these types of COVID-19 related mis- and disinformation being shared online that even includes an example of police generated satire turning into misinformation!
These are some resources that may help police agencies deal with COVID-19 Misinformation and Disinformation. A strategy of listening to social media conversations and directing people who are sharing disinformation, misinformation or misleading information to valid information can be helpful. Some people are more apt to believe conspiracy theories or whatever their favorite news commentators might say over facts and logic but you can’t worry about these people. There is no vaccine or cure for extreme biases, severe ignorance and intense political polarization so the best we can do is try to mitigate bad information by proactively challenging it and disproving it for the majority of people.
Some disinformation is being generated and shared specifically to cause harm. This is being done by networks of varying sophistication ranging from nation-states to groups of online trolls. A great way to help your strategy is by building a network of trusted and reliable sources to help you counter misinformation. Whether in the real world or online “It takes a network to defeat a network“
Here are some general notes on Social Media Monitoring and Disinformation. I have links to resources on there but I also talk about developing a strategy to combat mis- and disinformation. A lot of the content on this page is copied from this document: t.ly/mWKGA
For some reason I’m remembering great quotes as I am writing this.
“He who Defends Everything, Defends Nothing”
Most agencies will be unable to monitor all of the social networks that are out there. Unless you have a large full-time staff dedicated to social media and real-time intelligence you can’t watch everything. trying to monitor all things can be very ineffective. I would suggest keeping your focus on the platforms that are most popular in your area. A lot of bad information comes from lower traffic social media sources such as 4Chan, 8Chan, Telegram, Signal, and even WhatsApp. Disinformation can come from Russian news outlets such as RT, Sputnik or Chinese state outlets such as Xinhua and China Global Television Network or hate groups or even groups of trolls based in the U.S. and other countries. No matter where the information comes from, at some point it has to get into the mainstream. Just like COVID-19 and other viruses had to jump from animals to humans infodemics have to jump from smaller social networks to the large social media ecosystem. If you have limited resources this is where you can monitor it and answer it.
Most people are on Facebook so if possible, monitor the Facebook pages that your communities use. Just as you have officers do high visibility patrols, walking beats and traffic posts you should have an open online presence so that people in the community see you and can reach out to you if they have questions. Many community controversies and episodes of localized mass hysteria have been extinguished by helpful officers chiming in on Facebook resident group conversations to set the record straight. Instagram also has high levels of use as well as Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter. However, I wouldn’t install TikTok on any important mobile device as it is not trusted.
Nextdoor is one of a handful of local community sites that allow police to post helpful information to their communities. Here is an example of a post I put on Nextdoor to educate our community about misinformation and disinformation: https://nextdoor.com/agency-post/ma/burlington/burlington-police-department/covid-19-misinformation-and-disinformation-141287048/
Even though it has lessened in popularity compared to other platforms Twitter is an excellent platform for police agencies as a lot of information makes its way from the other sources to Twitter quickly. Twitter also has advantages in that it is used by most news organizations, police departments and emergency management agencies. Twitter offers excellent real-time situational awareness and it is easy to monitor and easy to investigate with free and open source tools and very little training.
For real-time monitoring of Twitter Tweetdeck is a great tool. You can set up as many columns as you like with a number of search terms focusing on specific words, locations or even excluding certain terms.
Amit Agarwal has a good article on his site about Twitter search operators and these should work in Tweetdeck:
You can search for terms that people use when something bad happens along with search operators like “or” to get the best results. You can use profanity as a search term because when something crazy happens people will say things like, “Wholly Sh*t” or they will use the F word – remember you need to type these words out completely.
Training and Information
For more on Social Media for Policing see the IACP Center for Social Media: http://www.iacpsocialmedia.org/
Developing a Policy on Social Media Use for Intelligence gathering – https://it.ojp.gov/GIST/132/Developing-a-Policy-on-the-Use-of-Social-Media-in-Intelligence-and-Investigative-Activities–Guidance-and-Recommendations-
Latest studies and stats on social media usage – http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/social-media/
Real Time Open Source Analysis – Social Media Resource Guide (ROSA) – https://it.ojp.gov/GIST/1200/Real-Time-and-Open-Source-Analysis–ROSA–Resource-Guide
For 28 CFR 23 Training: https://www.ncirc.gov/28cfr/
To find LE Contact Information for all of the major ISP’s try Search – http://www.search.org/resources/isp-list/
Legal Stuff including HIPAA, FERPA, MA Public Records and Policy Guidelines can be found on the NESMO (Northeast Social Media Officers) website https://sites.google.com/view/nesmo/home
Canadian Law – PIPEDA – The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act
Exceptions to PIPEDA – t.ly/7OqVB
Fighting False Information
A lot of what it takes to fight false information can be done using simple online tools and processes that nearly anyone can learn. I like to use what reporters use as it is unrestricted and open source and less invasive to peoples privacy. People don’t like police looking at them with “Black Box” high tech tools but whatever anyone can see online in plain view is just as private as posting a letter in an old fashioned newspaper.
Web sites to check false information
This is a great process that your residents can be educated on in order to do their own fact checking:
Tools for verification:
Checking User Names
Know ‘em – https://knowem.com/
Name Check – https://namechk.com/
Google Alerts (Web sites) – https://www.google.com/alerts
Warble Alerts (Twitter) – https://warble.co/
Talkwalker Alerts (Blogs, Web, Social) – https://www.talkwalker.com/alerts
Social Searcher , Social Buzz – https://www.social-searcher.com/social-buzz/
EULA’s and Short Links
What does that End User License Agreement Mean? – https://www.brightfort.com/eulalyzer.html
Don’t click that shortened link until you check it –
URL X-Ray – http://urlxray.com/
Unshorten.it – https://unshorten.it/
People Search Tools
Try some Google searches for groups by pasting this into the search bar: inurl:http://chat.whatsapp.com AND intext:”Follow this link to join my WhatsApp group” or try: site:http://chat.whatsapp.com AND intitle:”WhatsApp Group Invite”
SnapChat Snap Map
For topics: (Social Mention is down)
Treeverse Extension for Chrome – https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/treeverse/aahmjdadniahaicebomlagekkcnlcila?hl=en
What is that Hashtags Definition?
If you focus on a Twitter user or users:
Lots of Twitter tools:
Get notified when a Twitter account you follow is changed:
When does that Twitter user sleep?:
How does that Twitter user feel?
Is that a bot?
You can archive tweets from an event in a Google sheet using this tool. If nothing bad happens I would delete everything after a few days:
Download video subtitles:
Check if a photo is a fake:
Compare 2 photos side by side with Juxtapose
Go back in time and see older versions of a website on the Wayback Machine:
Generate a Visual Map of website:
Follow a website and get notified when changes are made:
Make images for your social sites
I hope all of this helps. My contact information is in the document I listed near the beginning of the article. Feel free to contact me if I can help you.
Lieutenant Glen Mills