In one of the chapters of The Good Fight , the series that follows a group of lawyers, the protagonists realize that the judge who is judging one of their cases is being influenced by the plot line of his opponent.
He is doing it not because of what is told in the trial – and has to be demonstrated with facts – but because of things he reads on the web. It’s crappy news, but it comes to you via an algorithm and it already has a starting bias.
The protagonists try to stop this effect with traditional tools, until they realize that it does not work and decide to fight back. They publish their own delusional information on the internet, so that the algorithm takes their bias to the judge and neutralizes their opponent.
The idea is a curiosity, a plot of a very complex series that usually touches on the topics that mark the news agenda almost before those topics become news. It is also a perfect example of how misinformation has become a recurring element and how its impact reaches more and more elements.
Until now, disinformation was seen as an element of political marketing and as something that affected those levels. If they talked about disinformation and fake news, they ended up talking about interference in elections or the victories of Bolsonaro or Trump. Since 2020, science, medicines and vaccines have also been talked about.
A well-assembled industry
Disinformation impacts society, which also makes it a problem for brands and companies (because it also creates an environment in which everyone seems to distrust everything), but for some time now it is becoming established as one more network problem.
If companies were afraid of what cybercriminals could do and how it could affect them, now they must also consider the impact of disinformation and the impact it can have on them. It is not just a problem of niche groups or political interference.
It is already a perfectly assembled industry. As shown in The New York Times , there is already a disinformation industry ready to be hired, which also frees – in a way – those who benefit from it. They can always say ‘but it’s not us’. It’s like an anti-PR machine.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal was but the beginning of something much bigger. Behind, they explain in the Times , are digital marketing agencies of questionable origins and objectives, that sell to the highest bidder and that launch the ‘dirty’ campaigns that are necessary.
One of the best examples is the saga of Pfizer’s vaccine smear campaign. A few months ago, a London public relations agency tried to attract German and French influencers to launch a campaign by badmouthing the vaccine on social media.
The movement went wrong for them, because some of those influencers published screenshots of the emails and denounced the plot. The agency in question, Fazze, was scrutinized (and everything indicates that with influencers from Brazil and India things were better for them).
Disinformation for hire
The agency itself was as mysterious and as difficult to locate as its disinformation campaign, but its work seemed like a prime example of what the Times calls “disinformation for hire,” “disinformation under contract.” Just like you commission a traditional marketing campaign, you can also do it with an anti-disinformation and fake news marketing campaign.
Those who offer these services are private companies, they explain, that move between the traditional marketing agency and geopolitical influence in the shadows and that are doing a job that until now the intelligence agencies of different countries did.
These companies, as an analyst explains to the Times , are hired by “governments and actors adjacent to governments” and are becoming a growing and serious problem, as they are an industry in a “boom” moment.
They sell their work, but also the fact that the real client behind all this can deny that they are, which allows them to work more intensively. Its trace can be found in political and destabilization campaigns in many, many countries around the world. Its actions are increasingly sophisticated, which also makes them more effective and further damages the credibility of citizens in all types of institutions (companies included). Social media is his favorite playground.