Coordinated User Action

Relevant Disinformation Cycle Stages: Decide to Act, Produce, Publish, and Amplify.

Technique description:

What is it: Online communities can work together to achieve goals. Sometimes these goals are “use our computers’ spare processing power to help medical research“, and sometimes these goals are “collaborate our efforts increase the number of people who see this particular thing”. This technique specifically relates to real humans choosing to use to accounts which they own (authentic or inauthentic) to spread specific information (so, not bots, and not hacked accounts).

How do people do it: People who are strongly aligned to particular sides of discussions and are active online tend to congregate together, forming communities. People in these communities can suggest that the group as a whole take action, and group members may participate.

Depending on group cohesion, convincing enough people to join in can be difficult (especially in the early stages). But numbers typically snowball as people perceive potentially successful action taking place, and want to join in.

Why they do it: It’s difficult to fully encapsulate the benefits offered to people who pull off working together to achieve a common goal. Basically, APES TOGETHER STRONG!

To provide one example of how coordinated user action could be used to amplify disinformation we can look at Twitter. If its algorithm thinks that a lot of people are discussing a topic, it will be promoted to other users so they can join in. A group could work together to try to trick Twitter into thinking something’s really popular, with the goal of getting it ‘trending’; meaning people not affiliated with the group would be exposed to things they otherwise wouldn’t have seen.

Read More:

Real World Example: Hillary Clinton and #DraftOurDaughters; Snopes – Oct 2016

This fact check covers an example of disinformation; users on 4chan’s politics board created fake Hillary Clinton campaign ads, and co-ordinated on how to spread them on social media using their accounts.

Viewing this through the lens of the Disinformation Cycle, one user had decided to act, producing inauthentic adverts targeting Hillary Clinton. They shared the content on 4chan, asking other users to help boost the disinformation on other platforms. These users joined in, deciding to act by publishing and amplifying the adverts on Twitter.

Real World Example: Reporting for Duty: How A Network of Pakistan-Based Accounts Leveraged Mass Reporting to Silence Critics; Stanford Internet Observatory – Sept 2020

This investigation looks at a group of individuals in Pakistan who collaborated on mass reporting accounts which were critical of Islam and the Pakistani government.