This article seeks to explore the concept of disinformation, its impact on current events, and how average citizens can be cognizant of, recognize, and learn to avoid its harmful effects. Specifically, we will discuss the growing trend of state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, their goals, and several recent examples of them.

This is an expansive and incredibly complex topic to cover and we hope to not reduce, downplay, or generalize any of the issues, themes, or sub-topics herein, while also not belaboring any points already known to the readership.

We’re already embattled

The New York Times recently reported, citing several officials briefed on recent U.S. intelligence, that Russian SVR intelligence operatives have increased their efforts to inflame racial tension in the U.S. in order to influence November’s presidential election.

Specifically, Russian disinformation would be used to incite violence by white supremacists and stoke anger among African Americans over institutional and societal racism. In short, Russian intelligence would focus on vulnerable populations and manipulate them in support of desired outcomes. Their weapon of choice: social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Russian active measures such as cyber-attacks, disinformation spread by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (commonly known as the “troll farm”), and others epitomize Russian asymmetric warfare in the information environment.

Russian intelligence used such measures in 2016. An extensive and independently-verified investigation confirmed that Russia had indeed interfered in the U.S. presidential election in support of their preferred candidate, Donald Trump. In 2016, Russian operatives amplified racial tensions by “creating fake Black Lives Matter groups online and spreading disinformation to depress black voter turnout.”

While it remains difficult — if not impossible — to accurately assess the extent to which such efforts may or may not have influenced voter behavior, the more insidious issue is Russia’s devious corruption of the sacred integrity of U.S. democratic practices.

Presently, Russian intelligence is employing similar tactics to influence white supremacist groups amidst ongoing protests surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Specifically, U.S. intelligence is aware of at least one neo-Nazi organization that has Russian ties and funding.