Forget Fake News – Worry About the Chaff…

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (online edition) there are several sorts of electronic countermeasure used against opponents’ radar:

Electronic countermeasures (electronic warfare)

The purpose of hostile electronic countermeasures (ECM) is to degrade the effectiveness of military radar deliberately. ECM can consist of (1) noise jamming that enters the receiver via the antenna and increases the noise level at the input of the receiver, (2) false target generation, or repeater jamming, by which hostile jammers introduce additional signals into the radar receiver in an attempt to confuse the receiver into thinking that they are real target echoes, (3) chaff, which is an artificial cloud consisting of a large number of tiny metallic reflecting strips that create strong echoes over a large area to mask the presence of real target echoes or to create confusion, and (4) decoys, which are small, inexpensive air vehicles or other objects designed to appear to the radar as if they are real targets. Military radars are also subject to direct attack by conventional weapons or by antiradiation missiles (ARMs) that use radar transmissions to find the target and home in on it. A measure of the effectiveness of military radar is the large sums of money spent on electronic warfare measures, ARMs, and low-cross-section (stealth) aircraft.

These are worth bearing in mind when using Twitter and other social media, as well as keyword driven news search alerts, as your own, personal news radar. In this analogy, the things I want to detect are “true” news stories (whatever that means…); here are some countermeasures you could take to try to prevent high quality news signals, or news signals that inform me about the things you are doing that you don’t want me to know about, or that you need to spin because they paint you in an unfavourable light, getting through to me:

  • noise jamming: pollute my feed with noise that makes me filter out certain forms of traffic (your noise) and, as a side effect, legitimate news; reference me in e.g. tweets and swamp my mentions feed with noise; if I’ve subscribed to one of the accounts you control, feed that stream with random retweets, auto-generated rubbish, etc;
  • false target generation: try to get me to subscribe to an account you control, thinking it’s a legitimate news source;
  • chaff: chaff masks your current “location”, or a story about you; if I make a search or want to follow a particular topic, try to make sure all I can ever find are empty pages that attract those search terms, or your spin on the story;
  • decoys: push out your own news story or, even better, a ridiculous claim that gets widely reshared and that pulls interest away form a legitimate story breaking about you; if I’m only going to read one thing about you today, better it’s the one you put out rather than the one that shows you for what you are…

(If you can think of better examples, please share them in the comments; this was just a quick coffee break post… didn’t really try to think the examples through…)

Remember, folks, this is information war… We should all be reading up on psyops too…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

3 thoughts on “Forget Fake News – Worry About the Chaff…”

  1. Love the way you have related fake news to electronic warfare. It is information war and I am very intrigued what Facebook and Google are going to produce to ‘score’ articles in the truth department. Since Google has a knowledge graph that should be rooted in a fact layer, you would think they are well positioned to provide that service. I have given up on Facebook and Twitter: they have proven to be the wrong collective.

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