Social Media is possibly the greatest force of the 21st century.
It has united people, empowered them given them a channel to speak freely and much much more.
But as always something this powerful is bound to be misused and exploited for more insidious stuff.
As Social Media was growing, gradually it started to be flooded with rumors and hoaxes. Simple stuff like the spotting of gigantic animals, evidence of UFOs, reports of miracles etc.
Occasionally there were posts filled with racist, ethnic, religious or homophobic rants but they were too few to cause any real damage.
But this scenario soon changed with the advent and popularity of affordable Smart Phones.
2009 saw the release of WhatsApp and also the dawn of an age of misinformation.
Everyone from highly educated people to school kids had swift access to a vast network of people potentially covering the whole world.
A single thoughtless post of one person could easily reach hundreds and thousands in a matter of seconds. But while many times these posts really are random posts by same person those that really cause damage are not there by chance. They are pre-planned, convincing and deliberately planted by anti-social elements to disturb normalcy.
Our team has been investigating and tracking such Social Media Miscreants for over a year we are breaking down our findings into a brief account:
For reasons of confidentiality and social security direct evidence can not be provided. No one is allowed to publish the actual content of anything deemed objectionable and thus neither can we.
I am fully aware that the contents of this article can be used by agents trying to spread certain content but I believe that knowing how such content is farmed and propagated better equips people to counter them. If we know exactly how they operate we can thwart them at all stages and this outweighs the risk of misuse of this information.
Even then if someone feels that the article requires editorial changes for the same please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Factors & Methodology Used to Flood Social Media With Inflammatory Content:
A] The Content Creators:
The content creators are of two types:
1] People associated to certain groups [Political/ Religious/ Extremist] etc. who create posts, memes, videos or write articles which bound to incite hate. They use stock photos, old photographs, old news clips and are often familiar with softwares like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere.
They are few in number and often their writing style can be observed in a pattern.
Sometimes they also manage websites or official social media handles of those groups and their writing style is the first clue in identifying them.
The writing style is almost as unique an identifier as fingerprints and it is the most common factor used by authorities to nab suspects.
2] Hired writers who are rarely hired permanently. Most often they are hired to write one or two articles, paid through relatively hard to trace channels.
The main place where such writers are hired is freelancing websites like Freelancer, Truelancer, UpWork etc. It is easy to find good writers ready to earn quick money who in an effort to impress end up writing convincing articles even though they don’t actually agree with it.
Hence Freelancers need to be extremely careful while delivering content to anyone. If the posts/ articles are traced back to them they can end up in trouble.
B] Primary Content Distributors:
Once the content is ready distributing it is another task that is done through several different ways. Only the main ones are covered:
1] Dummy Websites: With Domains cheaply/ freely available and building websites having become very easy this is major way of primary publishing.
Again, the domain is bought bought anonymously or free domains like .tk etc are used. In fact the only free TLD, .tk is so often used that Facebook Messenger has banned the sharing of any websites ending in .tk.
These websites are either permanent or created and used on the go. If the website is used permanently slowly it loses it’s potency and becomes totally useless. Hence temporary websites are preferred.
Another way is paying website admins to publish their content. There are several website owners with a not so sharp moral compass ready to publish anything for quick money so it’s easy to find them.
2] Buying Off News Agencies/ Reporters: There is no lack of small news agencies ready to publish any damn thing for money as well as popularity/ readership. Even relatively larger news agencies jump on any chance to publish content that is bound to garner attention.
3] Social Media Accounts: There are three different methodologies:
- Permanent Social Media Accounts/ Handles/ Pages: It’s quite easy to create untraceable accounts and also easy to maintain them. These usually have a considerable following. This following again many times bought or improperly obtained.
[There are several easy ways to get a large following/ likes or retweets. It is done via networks where you give the website your log in credentials and the website’s bots follow/ like pages/ posts of their users. A large user base and mutual benefits result in a considerable attention.]
This puts those permanent higher in news feed rankings.
- Temporary Social Media Accounts: Here the quality (age/ following base/ popularity) is not important, the quantity matters. Several (in hundreds) social media profiles are created, they quickly infiltrate unsuspecting people’s friend list and are used to flood particular posts within a very short time.
These accounts are created by paid ‘freelancers’ again hired through previously mentioned websites or through some other channels.
While websites like Upowrk and Truelancer ban the posting of such work offers they can be found on Freelancer and other websites. People are paid small amounts up to 0.5 $ per account created and it’s no big deal to find such ‘volunteers’.
- Hacked Social Media Accounts.
C] Sleeper Accounts: Although these are again primary content distributors these are the most dangerous ones. There are several types of them. The most common are fake but normal social media accounts. They usually have thousands of friends and regularly post unsuspecting content like comedy videos, jokes etc. They routinely chat with their Facebook friends and appear as friendly fellows. Then when it is required they suddenly post ‘The Content’ since it comes from these jolly fellows it is received with trust and this makes them very dangerous.
Identifying such accounts is extremely difficult and a challenge for Cyber Security cells, online defensive groups etc.
But slowly the success rate in identifying such accounts is increasing. I am not going to divulge ‘What Gives Them Away’ for obvious reasons.
Hence you must be extremely careful while accepting friend requests. You can be unconsciously used to spread offensive content.
The other kind of sleeper accounts are accounts with thousands of friends but hardly any posts.
When these accounts post it gets attention of almost all of their friends since (Facebook) notifies when someone posts after a long while.
The third kind is compromised accounts which are either hacked several months prior to utilization. Unfortunately people do not change their passwords as often as needed and hence at least 50 % of compromised accounts remain compromised.
D] Content Popularizes:
This content is popularized through a single channel:
‘Stupidity Of People’.
Most people are quick to forward any damn content without a single thought.
They proudly (Read: Shamelessly) add the tag ‘Forwarded As Received’ to shift any future blame from their shoulders and carelessly spread the message of hate.
Forget about fact checking, these people even ignore logic while re-posting anything.
If a post claims something, it’s your job to question it’s authenticity.
If a post asks you to be proud of someone it’s your responsibility to question ‘Why’.
If a post asks you to hate someone it’s your responsibility to think about ‘Why’.
The golden rule of Social Media is simple: Question Everything.
Apart from the above, there are other minor channels like fake social media accounts, dummy websites, pages etc.
1] Several Cyber Security Cells primarily in India, Australia, Norway, US, UK & France are doing commendable work in countering such content at all stages. Their success is growing exponentially.
2] Volunteer Groups (including but not limited to Anonymous) who continuously monitor Social Media for such elements, identify them, blow their cover and report them to both the respective Social Media as well as the authorities.
Both of their efforts go a long way towards maintaining Peace and Law & Order.
1] Other members of the team: Joe Davis, Vanessa Huygens, F0rd0R, Pixel.
2] Undisclosed sources in various agencies who shared/ confirmed findings.
Author: Rohan Dandavate
Public Key: [http://bluesphereobserver.com/rohan-dandavate/]