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October 26, 2022 39 mins

In Part Four of LikeWar, we tell the story of how disinformation has infiltrated the internet and our personal social media pages. Online, not everything is always what it seems. Sometimes, the most innocent looking interactions are actually the most dangerous. 

This series is adapted from the book LikeWar, written by series narrator Peter Singer and series contributor Emerson Brooking. To learn more about their research and defense work, you can find them on Twitter @peterwsinger and @etbrooking.

Get the book at LikeWarBook.com.

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:22):
In the first episodes of this series, we established how
modern warfare and technology work hand in hand. This diad
was obvious in both Nazi Germany and isis's propaganda campaigns.
These groups experienced victories on physical battlefields by turning the
radio and the Internet into weapons of mass manipulation and destruction.

(00:44):
But the ways in which war is fought aren't always
so overt. The weapons of attack may actually be hidden.
They could be masked as innocent pop culture moments, a picture,
a funny video, a meme. Even these are the new
weapons of like war. I'm Peter Singer and I'm Emerson Brooking.

(01:07):
This is Part four the Unreality Machine. First he was green, oh,
speaking of Donald trop of you. Are you familiar with
this meme called Pepe the Frog? Second, his name was
Pepe the Frog. This Pepper the Frog thing. I posted
a meme that someone had created of me as Peppy

(01:28):
the Frog, and apparently there's Peppy the Frog of everybody.
And third he was just a dumb internet meme. The
first thing we're gonna talk about today is why Peppe
is back in the news, But most of you probably
know it's Pepper the Frog. Today we have a look
at Peppe the Frog. When artist Matt Fury created Pepe
all the way back in two thousand and five, the

(01:49):
frog was just supposed to be a chilled out dude.
Pepe is like, he's a really personal character to me
as I created him, and you know, he's just like
a stone frog dude that likes to hang out, eat snacks,
and like fart with his buddies. To his supporters, he
was both a joke and a badge of honor. It's
mostly used by young men who are poking and causing

(02:12):
trouble on social media. To his critics, he was a
blazing symbol of hatred. A popular cartoon character turned Internet mean.
Pepe the Frog has been added to the Anti Defamation
League's database of hate symbols. Pepe was the new face
of President Trump's online army. It made little sense why

(02:32):
one cartoon frog would represent such a vast body of meanings,
but as it turns out, it was never really about
the frog. Instead, Pepe was just a vessel. He was
the product of an evolutionary cycle that moved at digital
warp speed, piling convoluted layer upon layer of meaning on Pepe.

(02:53):
I think what's appealing about Pepe is that he combines
this impossible mixture of innocence and evil, Like he has
this kind of knowing smile while he's performing acts that
are really atrocious. So how had he turned into a
vehicle for spreading hatred online? When Pepe was drawn into
existence in two thousand and five, he was a laid

(03:16):
back cartoon character known for smoking weed and hanging out
with his friends. He featured most prominently in Matt Fury's
comic The Boys Club. At that point, Pepe was totally unthreatening.
In fact, he looked like a cross between a Muppet
and a poorly drawn Simpson's character. In the comics, Pepe
had a variety of interests. On one page, he spoke Spanish.

(03:38):
Pages later, he was dressed in a baggy shirt and
a backwards baseball cap, going by the alias Young Ps.
He even revealed a vulnerable side, but always ironically, for instance,
sobbing on one page because his phone had died. Pepe's
versatility made him perfect for his role in the comic,
but it also made him a ripe candidate for the

(03:58):
meme treatment. All it took was one Internet post for
him to go viral, like millions of other pictures and
videos before him. Pepe Is likeness was first shared on
the anonymous image board website for chan. Do we even
know who is this four chan person? Or I've read
it as a fully functioning online democracy, then fortune is

(04:20):
basically lord of the fly. Four Chan is the largest
English image board. It's a community of twelve million people.
And it's sort of like known as h as, kind
of like the meme factory or something. Right as that right,
four Chan and a chran are hotbeds for white nationalist
terror flanty. What is four chan? He'd applied to me.
I suggest you don't go there if you don't want
to see gross things. It's an internet board. The post

(04:43):
featured a panel from The Boys Club comic. It showed
Pepe urinating in a public bathroom, but with his pants
pulled all the way down to his ankles. When questioned
why by another character in the comic, Pepe simply answered,
feels good man. Four Chain. Users identified with the frog
owning a shameless act. The post grew in popularity more

(05:06):
and more people shared the image. With the most basic
editing software, Peppe could then be made to look like
anyone or anything, and users ran with it, creating their
own unique renditions of the frog. Pepe donned everything from
a blue shirt to a baggy suit to hot pink lingerie.
He was thin or fat, sad or smug or angry.

(05:29):
Oftentimes Pepe was shared in good fun, dressed up like
Batman Borat or the rapper Nicki Minaj, but other times
Pepe was blatantly political, designed to look like Donald Trump,
Vladimir Putin, or even Adolf Hitler, and the latter wasn't
a fluke. As celebrities like Katy Perry shared Pepe across

(05:51):
their own Twitter and Instagram feeds, four Chain users feared
he was being co opted by the normi's normal people
with no appreciation for the Internet subterranean culture, so they
made a concerted effort to reclaim Pepe. To make him
less socially acceptable, they turned the frog into a literal Nazi. Pepe.

(06:14):
Memes laced with Hitler quotes, swastikas, and other Third Reich
icons flooded social media, convincing reporters and politicians alike that
the meme was anti Semitic. Pepe was thus successfully linked
to white nationalism, denounced by most journalists in the American left.
For all the irony. Pepe was then embraced un ironically

(06:35):
by real neo Nazis, who finally had a hip symbol
to call their own. The notorious white supremacist leader Richard
Spencer even took to wearing a lapel pin of Pepe
in public. You might remember the instantly viral video where
Spencer attempted to explain Pepe's symbolic value to his cause.

(06:56):
It's a Pepe has become kind of a simple that
is until a passer by punched him in the face.
As Pepe was rejected by Democrats in popular media, he
became the perfect symbol for those who felt themselves rejected
by the mainstream. Another example of this online into play
of irony and nationalism is the okay hand signal. This

(07:20):
began as a simple gesture used by scuba divers to
signal there were okay while underwater, but in the mid uses,
the four Chan cooked up a plan to troll the
mainstream media into reporting that the symbol was actually a
hidden white nationalist code. But the joke ended up being
so successful that many among the far ride did actually
adopt the symbol they wanted to bamboos all the media

(07:43):
and troll everyone by making this a white nationalist symbol.
And they did this by saying that it looked like
a w n a P for white power. Sure enough,
as it normally happens when something is born on four Chan,
white nationalists did end up using the okay hand sign.
And now you have groups like the Proud Boys who
use it as one of their main symbols. And then

(08:05):
when people ask them, hey, isn't that a white nationalismbol
leg go, come on, come on, you guys are crazy liberal.
So when you think about the way the Internet works,
a swastika isn't going to convince that many people who
aren't already firmly in the camp of white nationalism and
neo Nazism. Much more dangerous is the use of symbols

(08:27):
like what Pepe was. Much like the okay hand gesture,
the wink and nod of a cartoon frog allowed a
rich but easily deniable symbolism. Trump's ever growing army of
Internet trolls wielded Pepe like a weapon, poking and prodding

(08:48):
at mainstream journalists and Clinton supporters, and as soon as
someone took the bait, calling them out as racists and
white supremacists. The trolls would respond with smug outrage. How
they said, could Pepe be seen as anything more than
a dumb cartoon frog? But he was more than a
dumb frog. Pepe and other seemingly innocent memes on the

(09:12):
Internet had become not just symbols that you could use
out in the open, but crucial recruitment tools for domestic extremists.
Members of far right organizations extended their reach and recruited
targets by way of funny memes and pop culture references.
If we can pack in articles worth of information in

(09:32):
merely an image and then make it funny. When you
make it funny, their guard goes down. Vulnerable young men
who posted online about being alone and friendless were prime targets.
These recruiters offered open ears and conversations in the open
and then in private chat rooms. Groups based on division
as an ideology fostered a sense of community. Then they

(09:55):
began to soft pedal hateful political agendas and conspiracy theories.
They would tell their recruits that their community and the
things that they shared, like Peppe, were under attack, and
what do you do when you're under attack? You attacked back?
But the problem is that the way you're drawn into
it isn't all at once, but a little bit by

(10:17):
little bit, and all of a sudden, even if you
didn't necessarily truck with any of their ideas, you had
common ground and a sense of familiarity. And over time,
it was things like this which really helped explain this
pipeline of radicalization and extremism, where people who just started

(10:38):
out as part of certain Internet subculture became more and
more sympathetic to extremist ideas. Peppe was the symbolic bridge
that linked Internet trolls and the new white nationalist alt
right movement that was lining up behind Trump. There is
a shared ideology and a shared view of the world

(11:01):
which brings these people together, and that shared ideology can
sometimes be terribly destructive and poisonous. It becomes much easier
to contemplate things that you never would have contemplated before.
And when Trump won the election, Pepe became the representative
of a successful, hard fought campaign for the Oval office.

(11:23):
On Inauguration Day in Washington, d C. Buttons and print
outs of Pepe were visible in the crowd. Vendor sold
hats printed in the same style as those warned by
military veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and World War Two. They
proudly pronounced these wears as mean war veterans. Please raise
your right hand and repeat after me. I, Donald John Trump,

(11:47):
do solemnly swear. Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that
I will faithfully execute that I will faithfully execute the
office of President of the United States, the office of
President of the United States. Congratulations, Mr President. In the

(12:10):
months that followed, Pepe continued his evolution, popping up on
signs and clothes at the events of the far right.
There camouflage clad militiamen marched alongside gangly white teenagers. And
you're looking at live pictures out of Charlottesville, Virginia. This
is where violent clashes have broken out between white nationalists
and counter protests. There, white ride, there's nothing wrong with

(12:36):
When a domestic terrorists drove his car into a crowd
in Charlottesville, Virginia and killed a peaceful demonstrator, It was discovered,
perhaps unsurprisingly, that his Facebook page was peppered with Pepe memes.
So was the symbol of Pepe really racist? The answer
is yes, and was Pepe also an innocent silly joke?

(12:58):
Also yes, It's not easy to tell when a meme
has been co opted, especially if you aren't spending all
your day online. One big tell is if you see
a group of people who are all sharing the same image,
or the images of profile picture where they're sharing different

(13:19):
versions of the image. If you see a community of
people all using this meme and you yourself just think
it's funny but you have no idea what it means,
you should understand that there is a deeper meaning there
and if you use this symbol, you might be helping
their cause, even if you have no idea what their

(13:39):
cause is. To truly understand Peppe, one first needs to
understand memes. Memes are the vessels for ideas. A meme
is rarely funny or scary or inspiring all on its own.
They are what you make of them, what you prochect
onto them, and according to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who

(14:04):
coined the term, they are the genes of culture. Memes
are alive only so long as they exist in the
human mind. For memes to be forgotten means that they
go extinct, the same as a species. They can no
longer pass on its genetic code, but that doesn't fully
encompass the cultural impact of memes and their life cycle

(14:27):
on the Internet. It feels almost trite to say, but
certain memes are responsible for horrific acts of violence, for deaths.
In March, white nationalist gunmen in Christchurch, New Zealand, walked
into a mosque and murdered fifty one Muslim congregants. He

(14:52):
live streamed the whole attack through what was then called
eight chan, a forum board where he bragged a out
the attack before he carried it out in real time.
Even before his attack was over, there were people who
were taking images and gifts from this atrocity, and they

(15:14):
were shaping it into memes which they were then sharing
back onto this war on board. They were already mythologizing
this terrible attack even before it was over. Some of
it was grounded in white nationalists and white extremist ideas,
but others wanted to do these same things so they

(15:37):
could elicit the same online reaction. They were driven because
they wanted to get likes and online cloud, even if
they never lived to see it, and they were more
than willing to contemplate murdering people in order to get
that little bit of cloud from their small, anonymous community.

(15:58):
During his sentencing, the cry Ice Church shooter flash the
okay hand symbol in the courtroom, just like Pepe, a
transformation that had started as a joke in the dark
corners of the Internet had woven into a horrific real
world tragedy. Both military officials and Internet trolls alike have

(16:22):
recognized the power of memes and their viral transmission online,
and whoever wields that power best determines not just what
is popular and seen online, but what reality looks like.
Militaries around the world use memes to recruit and catch

(16:43):
the attention of young people. US Marine Corps Major Michael
Prosser was one of the first to predict that memes
and the Internet would have a psychological impact on war,
and a thesis titled my Medics a Growth Industry in
US Military operations, he argued that armed conflict would be

(17:03):
increasingly decided by dueling ideologies on a non linear battlefield.
Militaries would now have to track the memes their enemies
were using and counter them not just with missiles and bullets,
but with more memes of their own, and so an
industry devoted to military memetics was born the goal to

(17:27):
analyze and weaponize memes to gain an advantage in an
invisible information war. You have to remember that a lot
of this memetic warfare, the sending memes back and forth,
it's not really about the parties that are participating in
that little conflict. Instead, it's about the audience. When Russia

(17:51):
sent memes to Ukraine while Russian and Ukrainian soldiers were
fighting to the death, that wasn't really intended to put
the Ukrainian government in one direction or another. Instead, it
was intended to capture the attention of other people who
were watching around the world. Memes are little bits of

(18:12):
ammunition in this tug of war, this like war which
increasingly decides so much of our reality. Pepe was just
one of the first memes to go viral in a
way that wildly shaped our political climate and the credibility
that we assigned online movements. But in this new era

(18:32):
of cyber warfare, Pepe certainly won't be the last. So
how do we tell if the memes we're laughing at
online or just innocent moments in pop culture or weapons
being woven into viral influence and disinformation campaigns. There are
two basic principles to be on the lookout for. The
first is believability. Just like memes like Pepe build upon

(18:55):
an image or reference already circulating in the culture. The
most successful falsehoods play on existing prejudices, seeking to add
another layer to a narrative that already exists in the
target's mind. Take, for example, the KGB's Operation Infection, the
Cold War claim that the US military invented AIDS. A

(19:19):
Soviet military publication claims the virus that causes AIDS leaked
from a US Army laboratory conducting experiments in biological warfare.
This AIDS disinformation campaign didn't invent a new threat. Instead,
it leveraged people's fears about a well known but then
mysterious disease. And that's where the second principle extension comes

(19:42):
into play. The most devastating lies are those that reach
fast numbers of people across an extended period of time.
The more people they reach, the longer they linger and
continue to spread in new and involving ways, sustaining themselves
by constantly changing themselves. And the longer these beliefs circulate

(20:06):
on the Internet, evolving undergoing mem ification and rooting themselves
in day to day discourse, the harder they are to defeat.
I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of
government representatives whose job is to monitor for this very stuff.
I can say that they take it very seriously. Governments

(20:27):
around the world are much more aware of how speech
and these dark circles can so quickly lead to tragedy
and violence. But the problem is just the speed it
takes minutes. It took minutes in the case of the
christ Church massacre for a live stream video to receive

(20:48):
its first few thousand shares, screen captures, and downloads, which
enabled it to be spread to many more sources. When
the initial sources of Facebook, livestream was shut down was
able to live indefinitely on the Internet, and it was
able to inspire people, and there was very little at

(21:09):
that point the governments could do about it. If you
don't catch this stuff in the first few minutes, it
is basically impossible to keep other people from seeing it.
For better or worse, our existence will become more digital.
As we live more of our lives online, we will

(21:30):
come in contact with more of these viral influence campaigns
because they never really die out. I had a funck
ant is heathing around the garden. He hops and hops.
He's very green and he has And that's where we'll
go next on like war, to how the fake news

(21:51):
machine works, and it's unusual beginnings. We start with an
egregious example of just eight Bondy. Fraudulent news is always,
whether that's creating fake news or creating botan nets to
spread fake news. Fake news is lies and propaganda told
for a political or commercial purpose. Fake news. We've heard

(22:14):
it used and abused countless times and countless ways. The
phrases made its way across social media onto the most
influential stages in the world. That was just fake News
by NBC, which gives a lot of fake news lately,
and presidential speeches. I want you all to know that
we are fighting the fake news, even testimony on Capitol Hill.

(22:37):
But this part of our information disorder wasn't always so impressive.
In fact, it had far more meager beginnings. We're going
back to the unlikely rise of the so called fake
news machine. So let's call him Dmitri, just a guy
making a living in the small town of the Vellus, Macedonia.

(23:00):
I've wrote that the celebrity wants to kill Trump. The
Queen of England wants to meet Trump. Trump and Putting
had a secret meeting in Mexico. Dmitri wasn't his real name.
He kept that a secret from reporters when they broke
the news of his operation in But what we do
know is that he was living in the small town

(23:20):
of Valez, Macedonia, and at the age of eight, he
was running a fake news empire sandwich between Greece and Bulgaria.
Many Americans would be hard pressed to find Valez, let
alone Macedonia on a map. Vlez was once a thriving
industrial town part of the former communist Yugoslavia. By the

(23:43):
two thousand's, though most of its factories had shuttered and
now lay derelict and abandoned. Almost a quarter of the
population was unemployed, and of those who did manage to
find work, they were lucky to make the equivalent of
four U S dollars a month. Like almost every other
teenager in Valez, Dmitri dreamed of a better life. It

(24:04):
fantasized about owning a better laptop, a new car, even
a house. Some of his peers tried to make pocket
change by working security or bussing tables and local cafes,
but it was hard to make money with those real jobs.
They would have to look outside the norm. If they
wanted to live a more lavish lifestyle, they would have
to look to the internet. Into America. When the fake

(24:28):
news boom started, it was innocent enough. A duo known
throughout Valise as the Healthy Brothers had made a simple website.
There they shared diet and beauty tips, advocating for natural
remedies like putting a bar of soap between the bedsheets
to stop nightly leg cramps. If it sounds like a

(24:48):
croc that's because it was. The Healthy Brothers didn't have
an ounce of science to back up their advice. Every
single post was a lie, but every month the websites
facebook page managed to reel in ten million unique visitors
from around the world. The money they made off of
Google ads on each post was enough to buy the

(25:09):
Healthy Brothers BMW's and in a close knit community like Valz,
that didn't stay unnoticed for long. Soon dozens and then
hundreds of other boys in the town started following suit.
They built basic WordPress sites and started posting everything from
celebrity gossip to sports to political news. They pulled their

(25:31):
content from blogs and conspiracy sites, scouring the Internet for
the most provocative headlines, then they plagiarized them for their
own websites. The sorts of websites that Dmitri ran, if
you weren't paying that close attention, they could look like
normal news websites. One of his popular domains was called
USA Daily News twenty four. His sit superior to alongside

(25:55):
others with names like The Political Insider that were spreading
salacious headlines that often had nonsense written below them. Then
came the ripest target of all u s presidential election.
One of the early hits was when they published an
article about then candidate Donald Trump. The story claimed that

(26:18):
Trump had slapped an audience member during the campaign rally
in North Carolina. The article lit up with likes and
shares from American voters across Facebook. Of course, the assault
never happened, but that didn't matter. The boys of Alez
had discovered Internet gold. Americans had a seemingly insatiable thirst
for political stories. Even a sloppy, clearly plagiarized jumble of

(26:42):
texts and ads could rock up hundreds of thousands of shares.
When these stories first started coming out, a lot of
people sort of asked how did these teens in rural
Macedonia know so much about American politics? And the answer
is that if you were a young person and you've
grown up with access to the internet anywhere in the world,

(27:04):
chances are that you've been exposed to American ideas and
lessons about American society. So these Macedonian teenagers, they knew
that Americans loved clicking on the craziest stories. Soon, an
entire fake news industry was thriving in Vallez, and then
it added another industry to advise it. Clickbait coaches taught

(27:28):
young Macedonians how to make their websites more professional and
how to pick stories most likely to go viral. Mirako
Sasolokovski was one of those internet marketing coaches. He taught
his students how to write headlines, advising them to find
legitimate stories trending in the US and then make them
even more sensational. Months before the election actually took place,

(27:52):
he helped the teams build out their Facebook networks with
a core group of readers. They built trust by first
post in relatively normal political stories and then began publishing
more and more outrageous lies. The Republicans love the veterans.
They love the veterans, they respect them. I think the
most of anyone. And what you do is you say

(28:14):
Obama doing it three d millions to Hillary Hillary Clinton's
campaign that he took from the veterans, and people will
open them immediately saying why in It was Trump voters
who were the easy picking. They tended to be older
and more distrustful of wider society. I think that nothing

(28:38):
could be Trump supporters when it comes to, you know,
social media engagement, and that's why we stick to Trump.
The addictive nature of these stories wasn't an accident. Mirco
had it down to a science. In his words, articles
should be quote truth, not truth. The all the stories

(29:00):
were true, there would be no different than the regular media.
The Macedonian's websites and Facebook pages wouldn't have any added
value or generate any traffic. And if all the stories
were false, even readers with low media literacy would figure
out that they were being lied to. To reach the
biggest audience, the stories needed to fall somewhere in the middle.

(29:24):
So over the course of about six months, Dmitri built
an empire of fifty websites and the sorts of headlines
claiming that Obama was born in Kenya, that Obama was
plotting a military coup, that Oprah had said quote some
white people have to die. That Hillary Clinton was in
a coma. None of the stories were true, but they
were based on lies that had already circulated the Internet

(29:46):
for years. They were stories and Americans were already familiar with,
and most importantly, stories that many wanted to be true.
People like fake stories because reality is boring. If you
don't have to tell the truth, you can create much
more interesting stories, and you can make them needer, more compact.

(30:07):
You can tell powerful, compelling, attention grabbing stories. And that's
exactly what these false news merchants did so effectively. These
false stories were a lot more popular than the real ones.
There was a headline that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump.
This story in the three months before the election got

(30:28):
about two million engagements on Facebook. And put that into perspective,
the top performing story from the New York Times in
the same period only got about three fifty thousand engagements.
With each new engagement likes, posts, and shares, money rolled

(30:49):
in for Miraco and his students. I have students with
the revenue of north of one hund of thousand per
months use dollars. So Facebook was the way that these
Macedonian teens and other false news merchants got their clicks.
But it wasn't Facebook that was delivering most of the money.

(31:10):
That was Google. And these websites were absolutely plastered with ads,
ads that have been placed there by Google ad Sense,
which is the main engine that drives advertising on the Internet.
Google's advertising business model made the fake news boom profitable.
Here's how it works. Companies big or small, pay Google

(31:34):
to advertise for them. Google then optimizes these ads across
any number of websites, catering to users based on their
past clicks, political leaning, income, age, or any number of identifiers,
and with each visit to a website, the owner of
the page gets a small percentage of the ad money.

(31:54):
That's how Dmitri and the other Macedonian boys turned clicks
into a seemingly NonStop of cash. They may have only
been making a few cents per click, but with millions
of people visiting their pages, those sins added up quickly.
Soon the best of them, like Dmitri, were pulling in
tens of thousands of dollars a month. The average US

(32:15):
Internet user was basically a walking bag of cash. Their
clicks worth four times advertising dollars of anyone else in
the world, and the best part, they were gullible. It
didn't bother Dmitri that the stories he wrote, posted and
shared to Facebook had no basis in reality. Why should
it have Americans ate the stories up? And there was

(32:38):
no crackdown, nothing to prevent him from posting whatever he
wanted online. The Macedonian teams were even supported by their
own local government. The mayor ironically compared their success to
the American dream. After all, the teens hadn't broken any
laws within their home country. They paid tax is, they

(33:00):
were contributing to an economy and desperate need. They had
no agenda besides making money practice akinda entrepreneurialism that America
usually celebrates. That's why Dmitri says they're not the ones
to blame. I know who is the responsible one for
the election, that that's the American people. Don't think the
American people take their politics not as serious as out

(33:22):
of the country to do no offense to Americans, but
we don't believe such hoax news, and he's not exactly wrong.
No one in Valez would have become professional fake news
propagators without the millions of clicks from Americans nor the
social media business model that helped drive their false news viral.
After the election, the Macedonian teams became celebrities of a sort. NBC, CNN,

(33:48):
even Cambridge University released reports of what they had done,
but they were only symptoms and symbols of something larger.
When I think about the list of individuals and institutions
that were responsible for the election turning out the way
it did and being flooded with this and misinformation, I

(34:10):
rank the efforts of teenage Macedonians trying to make a
buck pretty far down the list. In the years since
Dmitri's fake news movement influence the American election, more than
seventy other countries have experienced political disinformation campaigns. Misinformation from
Macedonian teenagers is mostly gone, but what's replaced them is

(34:35):
a lot worse. New forces, far more malicious than teenagers
trying to earn pocket change, have learned not just how profitable,
but how powerful pushing false information online actually can be.
These forces include governments in Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. National

(34:56):
disinformation campaigns have been used to discredit political upon on
its silence, dissenting views, and interfere and domestic and foreign affairs.
In Indonesia, political disinformation shot up sixty in the months
before the country's twenty nineteen presidential election. Hackers from Russia

(35:17):
and China were accused of trying to manipulate and modify
Indonesia's electoral role of nearly two million voters. Infiltrating the
national electoral database became a badge of honor for local hackers.
Rumors of fake ballots and ghost voters went viral on
social media. There is now a thriving billion dollar industry

(35:40):
focused on disinformation for higher and this stuff largely takes
place outside of the United States. As the US has
cracked down on fake news publishers like those teams in Macedonia,
so have other countries around the globe. Organizations like Mafendo
and Indonesia collect data and track the spread of disinformation

(36:01):
within their own elections. Social media companies have also started
to recognize their own responsibility for stopping the spread of
miss and disinformation on their platforms. Facebook instituted a policy
where any page that someone was operating shows the geographical

(36:21):
location of the page operator. So what that means is
if you went back to those pages that were spreading
all that misinformation in and clicked on the about section,
you would see that the operators were actually based in
Vali's Macedonia. So that's one action that they've taken. And

(36:41):
then increasingly all the social media platforms have experimented with
labels where if something is verifiably not true, they try
to find ways to share that so their users understand
that the claim is disputed or it's outright false before
they click on it and before they share it. But

(37:02):
it's still not enough. Despite Facebook's attempts to crack down,
the platform was still responsible for nearly half of the
fake news shared during the Indonesian election cycle. And as
we get better at recognizing and combating disinformation, so too
do bad actors adapt and learn more sophisticated methods of

(37:23):
interfering and domestic and foreign affairs. Dmitri and others in
Macedonia took advantage of American voters and a capitalist system
to make money. Now governments and hacker groups have launched
bigger more sophisticated attacks on elections all around the globe.
That's what's next on Like War, the international assault on

(37:45):
democracy and how Russia's curated disinformation campaigns impacted elections in
America and dozens of other countries. This is a production

(38:07):
of I Heeart Podcasts, Graphic Audio and Goat Rodeo. Karas
Shillen That's Me is the series lead producer. Special thanks
to NBC News and Getty an XO XO an experimental
festival for independent artists who live and work online. You
can find out more about NBC news is coverage of

(38:27):
the fake news movement in Macedonia, and here Matt Fury's
full talk at the two thousand eighteen XO XO Festival
at the links in our show notes. This episode is
just one of a seven part series. Find other episodes
wherever you get your podcasts. If you'd like to dive
deeper into the work of p. W. Singer and Emerson Brooking,

(38:48):
you can access the full audio book Like War, on
which this series is based wherever you get your audio books.
Writing and editing from Karash Shillen, Production assistants from Isabelle
Kirby McGowan, Senior producers are Ian Enright and Megan Nadowski.

(39:08):
Please share this series with the hashtag like war to
find other conversations about the series. Thank you for listening.
M
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