Disinformation Booklist

disinformation booklist

With access to unlimited information through technology comes access to the misinformation political actors can disseminate. learn how disinformation affects the political landscape and how to combat it with the books below.

Active measures: the secret history of disinformation and political warfare by Thomas Rid

We live in the age of disinformation. More than four months before the 2016 election, Rid warned that Russian military intelligence was attempting to disrupt the democratic process. Here he tells the story of modern disinformation, beginning with the post-Russian Revolution clash between communism and capitalism, which would come to define the Cold War. He exposes the disturbing yet colorful history of professional, organized lying, revealing for the first time some of the century’s most significant operations– many of them nearly beyond belief. Rid also sheds new light on the 2016 election, especially the role of the infamous ‘troll farm’ in St. Petersburg.

Disinformation in the global South by Herman Wasserman, Dani Madrid-Morales

The recent rampant global problem of the rampant spread of disinformation in and through the digital ecosystem can perhaps be traced directly to the technological changes in the realm of media production, circulation and consumption. As media tools have become commonplace and user-friendly, the utopian dream of critical media scholarship that sought to democratize speech seems closer to reality than ever before. Alongside this process, the simultaneous decline of editorial authority of traditional media organizations has led to the rise of practices such as citizen journalism that have provided checks and balances to fill in the gaps in coverage of dominant top-down media institutions. Additionally, as users have gradually appropriated the available tools of media production, they have done so for various subversive ends including a now thriving global culture of parody, satire and critique (Wasserman 2020; Kumar 2015) using existing genres and formats to challenge dominant media texts, institutions and discourses. Often adopting the format of the very texts they seek to critique, parodic texts such as news reports and analysis don’t fit the category of misinformation as they openly reveal their fake nature, even if towards the end.

Information wars: how we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it by Richard Stengel

In February of 2013, Richard Stengel, the former editor-in-chief of Time, joined the Obama administration as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Within days, two shocking events made world-wide headlines: ISIS executed American journalist James Foley on a graphic video seen by tens of millions, and Vladimir Putin’s ‘little green men’–Russian special forces–invaded Crimea, amid a blizzard of Russian denials and false flags. What these events had in common besides their violent lawlessness is that they were the opening salvos in a new era of global information war, where countries and non-state actors use social media and disinformation to create their own narratives and undermine anyone who opposes them. Stengel was thrust onto the front lines of this battle as he was tasked with responding to the relentless weaponizing of information and grievance by ISIS, Russia, China, and others. He saw the scale of what he was up against and found himself hopelessly outgunned. Then, in 2016, the wars Stengel was fighting abroad came home during the presidential election, as ‘fake news’ became a rallying cry and the Russians used the techniques they learned in Ukraine to influence the election here. Rarely has an accomplished journalist been not only a close observer but also a principal participant in the debates and decisions of American foreign policy. Stengel takes you behind the scenes in the ritualized world of diplomacy, from the daily 8:30 morning huddle with a restless John Kerry to a midnight sit-down in Saudi Arabia with the prince of darkness Mohammed bin Salman. The result is a rich account of a losing battle against trolls and bots–who are every bit as insidious as their names imply.

Striking back: overt and covert options to combat Russian disinformation by Thomas Kent

Disinformation by Russia and its allies has increased sharply in the past decade, but Western responses have been weak and uncoordinated. Most democratic countries have relied on defensive measures, such as media literacy classes and pressure on social networks to delete Kremlin-controlled accounts. Thomas Kent, the former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, proposes an energetic new strategy: aggressive messaging to combat Russian information operations, while promoting the values of democracy that too many in the West have lost faith in. Focusing on Russian operations in Europe, Africa and Latin America, Kent describes the reluctance of many Western governments to confront Kremlin disinformation. Some are afraid of Kremlin retaliation, while others fear becoming “propagandists” themselves. Kent, a specialist on communication ethics, delves into the difference between propaganda and aggressive promotion of the truth. Kent also describes the little-publicized army of anti-disinformation warriors, independent of governments, who are already at work confronting Russian trolls and even doxing Russian soldiers. Along with independent journalists and fact-checkers, these activists represent a significant potential threat to Russian disinformation. But the groups are small and their funding is haphazard. Striking Back presents concrete recommendations for aggressive messaging to combat Russian disinformation, including specific themes to emphasize, the best vehicles for getting messages across, and how to help those already engaged in the struggle. It also recommends stepped-up communication to Russia’s own citizens, and proposes strategies in case the Kremlin ever manages to separate the Russian internet from the rest of the online world. Striking Back also assesses the ethics and practicality of covert information activities by Western nations. Thomas Kent goes beyond depicting Russian operations to propose steps that Western governments, foundations and activists can take now to confront them.

Digital authoritarianism in the Middle East: deception, disinformation and social media by Marc Owen Jones

You are being lied to by people who don’t even exist. Digital deception is the new face of information warfare. Social media has been weaponised by states and commercial entities alike, as bots and trolls proliferate and users are left to navigate an infodemic of fake news and disinformation. In the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East, where authoritarian regimes continue to innovate and adapt in the face of changing technology, online deception has reached new levels of audacity. From pro-Saudi entities that manipulate the tweets of the US president, to the activities of fake journalists and Western PR companies that whitewash human rights abuses, Marc Owen Jones’ meticulous investigative research uncovers the full gamut of tactics used by Gulf regimes and their allies to deceive domestic and international audiences. In an age of global deception, this book charts the lengths bad actors will go to when seeking to impose their ideology and views on citizens around the world.

Social media and the public interest: media regulation in the disinformation age by Philip M Napoli

Facebook, a platform created by undergraduates in a Harvard dorm room, has transformed the ways millions of people consume news, understand the world, and participate in the political process. Despite taking on many of journalism’s traditional roles, Facebook and other platforms, such as Twitter and Google, have presented themselves as tech companies – and therefore not subject to the same regulations and ethical codes as conventional media organizations. In contrast to tech companies’ boasts of disruptive innovation, Philip M. Napoli offers a timely and persuasive case for seeing social media as news media, with a fundamental obligation to serve the public interest. Social Media and the Public Interest explores how and why social-media platforms became so central to news consumption and distribution as they met many of the challenges of finding information – and audiences – online. Napoli illustrates the implications of a system in which coders and engineers drive out journalists and editors as the gatekeepers who determine media content. He argues that a social-media-driven news ecosystem represents a case of market failure in what he calls the algorithmic marketplace of ideas. To respond, we need to rethink fundamental elements of media governance based on a revitalized concept of the public interest. A compelling examination of the intersection of social media and journalism, Social Media and the Public Interest offers valuable insights for the democratic governance of today’s most influential shapers of news.

Network propaganda: manipulation, disinformation, and radicalization in American politics by Yochai Benkler, Rob Faris, Hal Roberts

Is social media destroying democracy? Are Russian propaganda or “Fake news” entrepreneurs on Facebook undermining our sense of a shared reality? A conventional wisdom has emerged since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that new technologies and their manipulation by foreign actors played a decisive role in his victory and are responsible for the sense of a “post-truth” moment in which disinformation and propaganda thrives. Network Propaganda challenges that received wisdom through the most comprehensive study yet published on media coverage of American presidential politics from the start of the election cycle in April 2015 to the one year anniversary of the Trump presidency. Analyzing millions of news stories together with Twitter and Facebook shares, broadcast television and YouTube, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the architecture of contemporary American political communications. Through data analysis and detailed qualitative case studies of coverage of immigration, Clinton scandals, and the Trump Russia investigation, the book finds that the right-wing media ecosystem operates fundamentally differently than the rest of the media environment. The authors argue that longstanding institutional, political, and cultural patterns in American politics interacted with technological change since the 1970s to create a propaganda feedback loop in American conservative media. This dynamic has marginalized centre-right media and politicians, radicalized the right wing ecosystem, and rendered it susceptible to propaganda efforts, foreign and domestic. For readers outside the United States, the book offers a new perspective and methods for diagnosing the sources of, and potential solutions for, the perceived global crisis of democratic politics.

The face of peace: government pedagogy amid disinformation in Colombia by Gwen Burnyeat

Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla sought to end fifty years of war, and won President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet Colombian society rejected it in a polarizing referendum, amid an emotive disinformation campaign. A renegotiated deal began to be implemented, albeit haunted by a legitimacy deficit. Gwen Burnyeat, a political anthropologist and peace practitioner, joined the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, the government institution responsible for peace negotiations, which created a “peace pedagogy” strategy, a world first in peace processes, to explain the agreement to Colombian society. Her multi-scale ethnography, based on unprecedented access to government officials, reveals the challenges they experienced in representing the government to skeptical audiences and translating the peace process for public opinion. Through peace pedagogy, officials embodied the government and became the relay between state and citizens–effectively, the face of the Santos government. Burnyeat argues that Santos’ failure to mobilize society was the fatal flaw in the peace process. As in the UK’s Brexit referendum and the US Trump election, rational explanations were powerless against disinformation because political views are shaped by emotions, culture, history, and identity. The Face of Peace offers the Colombian case as a mirror to the global crisis of liberalism, shattering the fantasy of rationality that haunts liberal responses to “post-truth” politics”.

Computational propaganda: political parties, politicians, and political manipulation on social media by Samuel C Woolley, Philip N Howard

Social media platforms do not just circulate political ideas, they support manipulative disinformation campaigns. While some of these disinformation campaigns are carried out directly by individuals, most are waged by software, commonly known as bots, programmed to perform simple, repetitive, robotic tasks. Some social media bots collect and distribute legitimate information, while others communicate with and harass people, manipulate trending algorithms, and inundate systems with spam. Campaigns made up of bots, fake accounts, and trolls can be coordinated by one person, or a small group of people, to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. Some political regimes use political bots to silence opponents and to push official state messaging, to sway the vote during elections, and to defame critics, human rights defenders, civil society groups, and journalists. This book argues that such automation and platform manipulation, amounts to a new political communications mechanism that Samuel Woolley and Philip N. Noward call “computational propaganda.” This differs from older styles of propaganda in that it uses algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks while it actively learns from and mimics real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks. This book includes cases of computational propaganda from nine countries (both democratic and authoritarian) and four continents (North and South America, Europe, and Asia), covering propaganda efforts over a wide array of social media platforms and usage in different types of political processes (elections, referenda, and during political crises).

The great firewall of China: how to build and control an alternative version of the Internet by James T Griffiths

China’s ‘Great Firewall’ has evolved into the most sophisticated system of online censorship in the world. As the Chinese internet grows and online businesses thrive, speech is controlled, dissent quashed, and attempts to organise outside the official Communist Party are quickly stamped out. Updated throughout and available in paperback for the first time, The Great Firewall of China draws on James Griffiths’ unprecedented access to the Great Firewall and the politicians, tech leaders, dissidents and hackers whose lives revolve around it. New chapters cover the suppression of information about the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, disinformation campaigns in response to the exposure of the persecution of Uyghur communities in Xinjiang and the crackdown against the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong.

Media capture: how money, digital platforms, and governments control the news by Anya Schiffrin

Who controls the media today? There are many media systems across the globe that claim to be free yet whose independence has been eroded. As demagogues rise, independent voices have been squeezed out. Corporate-owned media companies that act in the service of power increasingly exercise soft censorship. Tech giants such as Facebook and Google have dramatically changed how people access information, with consequences that are only beginning to be felt. This book features pathbreaking analysis from journalists and academics of the changing nature and peril of media capture-how formerly independent institutions fall under the sway of governments, plutocrats, and corporations. Contributors including Emily Bell, Felix Salmon, Joshua Marshall, Joel Simon, and Nikki Usher analyze diverse cases of media capture worldwide, many drawn from firsthand experience. They examine the role played by new media companies and funders, showing how the confluence of the growth of big tech and falling revenues for legacy media has led to new forms of control. Contributions also shed light on how the rise of right-wing populists has catalyzed the crisis of global media. They also chart a way forward, exploring the growing need for a policy response and sustainable models for public-interest investigative journalism. Providing valuable insight into today’s urgent threats to media independence, Media Capture is essential reading for anyone concerned with defending press freedom in the digital age.

The rise of digital repression: how technology is reshaping power, politics, and resistance by Steven Feldstein

The world is undergoing a profound set of digital disruptions that are changing the nature of how governments counter dissent and assert control over their countries. While increasing numbers of people rely primarily or exclusively on online platforms, authoritarian regimes have concurrently developed a formidable array of technological capabilities to constrain and repress their citizens. In The Rise of Digital Repression, Steven Feldstein documents how the emergence of advanced digital tools bring new dimensions to political repression. Presenting new field research from Thailand, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, he investigates the goals, motivations, and drivers of these digital tactics. Feldstein further highlights how governments pursue digital strategies based on a range of factors: ongoing levels of repression, political leadership, state capacity, and technological development. The international community, he argues, is already seeing glimpses of what the frontiers of repression look like. For instance, Chinese authorities have brought together mass surveillance, censorship, DNA collection, and artificial intelligence to enforce their directives in Xinjiang. As many of these trends go global, Feldstein shows how this has major implications for democracies and civil society activists around the world.