The gaming-updates Global Affairs project explores the increasingly intertwined relationship between the technology sector and global politics.
When the term “propaganda” became common after the 2016 elections, it mainly referred to state actors targeting political campaigns. Despite government vigilance and significant efforts, the nature of the threat is changing faster than democracy can adapt. Government officials, financially motivated propagandists for organizations, and ideologically motivated individuals are spreading misinformation that targets both companies and individuals and governments.
Now, in an election year in the United States, and with the ongoing turmoil in the geopolitical landscape, we expect an intensification of advocacy campaigns against democratic institutions and private sector organizations. With regulation stalled and government protection limited, if companies want to protect their ability to operate tomorrow, they themselves must face today’s threat.
Over the past two years, propaganda campaigns have done significant damage to the brand, reputation and value. In 2020, online retailer Wayfair faced an attempt by QAnon conspiracy theorists, notorious for unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and misconduct by politicians, to convince consumers that the company was trying to help children with its furniture items through smuggling. These outrageous claims were ignored by many, but deemed sufficient to call for a boycott, attempts to manipulate the company’s stock price, and publishing the physical locations of executives’ homes and offices and call centers. telephone lines.
More recently, propaganda campaigns have used false stories about pharmaceutical companies, cryptocurrency scams, and coin pumping to try to manipulate consumer confidence in high-tech solutions such as space technology, electric vehicles, and vaccines. In just one example, our organization, Alethia Group, conducted a 2020 study that assessed how a network of Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and former President Trump adviser Steve Bannon manipulated QAnon-related conversations in an attempt to spread campaign stories. But the network didn’t just focus on the polls, it also nominated private companies and big brands, including travel and hospitality, food, beverage and tech companies.
As the threat evolves, the rules for the digital space have not kept pace, and the agencies that have tried to protect us from misinformation in the past are facing oddities that are difficult to overcome alone. A combination of legislative and bureaucratic slowdowns, restrictions on social media data collection, and failure to develop new technology solutions to address the threat have exacerbated these disparities, as governments often lack the resources to defend against full-blown threat scenarios.
If organizations cannot rely on governments to protect themselves digitally, the private sector must take the lead in protecting customers, employees, and bottom line. By implementing strategies to detect emerging advocacy campaigns before they take off, companies can reduce malicious attempts to manipulate their brands, reputation, stock prices, and consumer trust.
In addition to protecting reputational damage by launching accurate messaging campaigns, there are often opportunities to redress those who launch propaganda campaigns by denouncing their efforts or taking legal action that is actually meant. And by sharing information with the government, companies can also raise awareness of the situation, allowing the intelligence community within law enforcement and government to work together against those who seek to harm America’s interests.
Propaganda is not just a threat to democracy; It is also a threat to our economy. This means that businesses and individuals, not just government agencies, have an important role to play in uncovering and stopping attempts at malicious influence, protecting ourselves and our economic interests, and protecting our society. Companies can act to protect consumers and shareholders in a way that governments cannot, by identifying and identifying threats that target them and a variety of treatment options, from lawsuits to awareness campaigns. Our collective democratic and economic interests will indeed depend on this.