Cyber troops are government, military, political party, private contractors, volunteers and paid citizens committed to manipulating public opinion over social media – UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
The Fenix Files, PH (November 11, 2017) – The University of Oxford Computational Propaganda Research Project found that $200,000, around P10 million, was spent to hire trolls who would spread propaganda for President Rodrigo Duterte, and targeted his critics and oppositions.
The study is initiated by Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard of the University of Oxford. The study is titled “Troops, trolls and troublemakers: A global inventory of organized social media manipulation”.
The Oxford working paper define cyber troops as government, military or political‐party teams committed to manipulating public opinion over social media and also the report on specific organizations created, often with public money, to help define and manage what is in the best interest of the public.
The research project summarizes the findings of the first comprehensive inventory of the major organizations behind social media manipulation. They were find that cyber troops are a pervasive and global phenomenon and looked at how political parties and candidates across 28 countries deploy “cyber troops” who use a variety of strategies, tools and techniques to shape public opinion.
Many different countries employ significant numbers of people and resources to manage and manipulate public opinion online, sometimes targeting domestic audiences and sometimes targeting foreign public.
Countries included in the research were Argentina, Azerbaijan, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Mexico, North Korea, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Venezuela and Vietnam.
The study said that Duterte’s team of 400 to 500 cyber troops post nationalistic and pro-government comments and interact with dissenters through harassment and individual targeting. Membership in cyber troop teams in the Philippines is “liminal” but with some coordination.
Popular forms of individual targeting involve “verbal abuse, hate speech, discrimination and/or trolling against the values, beliefs or identity of a user or a group of users online” usually over a long duration.
Fake accounts, which, in many cases, are “bots”, bits of code designed to mimic human users were also found to have been deployed in the Philippines. These were often used to flood social media networks with spam and fake news, propaganda made to seem like legitimate news articles, and inflate the number of likes, shares and re-tweets to create “an artificial sense of popularity, momentum or relevance.”
“This is different to traditional digital campaign strategies, which have generally focused on spreading information about the party or candidate’s platform, or sent advertisements out to voters.”
The study showed that Duterte’s online machinery is composed of his party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino, Lakas ng Bayan, his campaign’s social media manager Nic Gabunada, volunteer groups and paid citizens.
“Social media has become a valuable platform for public life. It is the primary medium over which young people, around the world, develop their political identities and consume news. However, social media platforms—like Facebook and Twitter—have also become tools for social control,” the study said.
The study listed 2016 as the year of the earliest report of organized social media manipulation in the Philippines. During that year “keyboard trolls” were hired to spread propaganda for then presidential candidate Duterte and many of them continue to amplify messages in support of the president’s policies now that he’s in power.
The Cyber Troops Strategies, tools and techniques for social media manipulation:
- Commenting on social media posts
- Individual targeting
- Government-sponsored accounts, web pages or applications
- Fake accounts and computational propaganda
- Content creation
The Cyber Troops Organizational forms
- Private contractors
- Paid citizens
The Cyber Troops Organizational budget, behavior and capacity
- Budget information
- Organizational behavior
- Capacity building
The study said that there is no doubt that individual social media users can spread hate speech, troll other users, or set up automated political communication campaigns. Unfortunately, this is also an organized phenomenon, with major governments and political parties dedicating significant resources towards the use of social media for public opinion manipulation.
The research project describes the Figure 1 is a country heat map of cyber troop capacity, defined by the number of different organizational types involved. In many countries, political actors have no reported ability to field social media campaigns. In some countries, one or two known political actors occasionally use social media for political messaging, and in a few other countries there are multiple government agencies, political parties, or civil society groups organizing trolling and fake news campaigns.
The research for the study was conducted in three stages. First, through a systematic content analysis of news media articles. The content analysis was supplemented with other sources from think tanks, government agencies, civil society groups, universities and other credible research. Finally, they consulted with country experts to check facts, find additional sources in multiple languages and assist in evaluating the quality of sources. The FENIX Files/rif
- Samantha Bradshaw is a DPhil. candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and works on the Computational Propaganda project as a research assistant. Prior to joining the COMPROP team, she worked at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Canada, where she was a key member of a small team facilitating the Global Commission on Internet Governance. She holds an MA in global governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and a joint honors BA in political science and legal studies from the University of Waterloo. Samantha tweets from @sbradshaww.
- Philip N. Howard is a statutory Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute and a professorial fellow at Balliol College at the University of Oxford. He has published eight books and over 120 academic articles and public essays on information technology, international affairs and public life. Howard’s books include The Managed Citizen (Cambridge, 2006), the Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Oxford, 2010) and most recently Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (Yale, 2015). He blogs at http://www.philhoward.org and tweets from @pnhoward.