Geopolitics and tech: Countering bot swarms, mass false accounts, and deep fakes
In late April 2021, we recently held two GeoTech Hours at the Atlantic Council on the topic of “Countering bot swarms, mass false accounts, and deep fakes” — a timely topic given everything that has happened over the last five years with the increasingly interconnected, digital world.
The event includes a focus on the recognition that a former Facebook data scientist on the company’s integrity team, Sophie Zhang, recently identified that Facebook wasn’t paying enough attention to coordinated disinformation networks. This included a loophole in Facebook policies linked to creation of unlimited numbers of fake “pages,” which, unlike user profiles, don’t have to correspond to an actual person but could still like, comment on, react to, and share content.
The challenge of countering bot swarms (automated programs that are not humans and can draw away and deny system resources or attention from actual humans) and mass false accounts is not a new phenomenon. Rather this tactic was once only available to nation-states, but as tech has become democratized, individuals can now also carry out such attacks, creating challenges for social media platforms.
For example, the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch found that only twelve prominent anti-vaccine leaders are responsible for about two-thirds of anti-vaccine content on major social media sites. Such challenges have been growing since the mid 2010s, when most of the general public were unaware of how bot swarms could make a voices look and appear like a much larger group. These bot-human hybrids (also known by researchers as “cyborgs”) can deny system resources from actual humans and pose challenges for public and private organizations alike.
Part 1 of the discussion:
On Wednesday, April 21, the first part of this special GeoTech Hour series focused on the just how the democratization of technologies has created a systemic issue that requires whole of society solutions and strategies. The event assembled individuals who have spent the last decade working on different parts of the challenges and on both the defensive and offensive sides of employing tech to counter coordinated inauthentic behavior. We were fortunate to be joined by Pablo Breuer, Alex Ruiz, Sara-Jayne Terp — all impressive luminaries in their own fields as well as Nonresident Senior Fellows with the Atlantic Council.
Part 2 of the discussion:
On Wednesday, April 28, the second part II of this special GeoTech Hour series continued the conversation on new data and technological solutions to identify bot swarms and mass false accounts that are only now possible, as well as the importance of recognizing that these are challenges of human belief. The second GeoTech Hour also considered novel strategies to counter what, up until now, has mostly been a defensive posture in the face of those who would spread coordinated inauthentic behavior. We were fortunate to be joined by similarly impressive luminaries Renee DiResta — Technical Research Manager, Stanford Internet Observatory; Jeff Frazier — Nonresident Fellow, GeoTech Center, Atlantic Council; and Eric Sapp, President, Public Democracy.
Watch the videos and let us know your thoughts; a full listing of all our GeoTech Hours can be found at https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/programs/geotech-center/geotech-hour/
Onwards and upwards together!