Disinformation: A New Threat

Written by Annika Lai, GPI Undergraduate Fellow

Recent affairs have not only exposed significant fragility in the strength of America’s most basic infrastructures, but have also unveiled the sheer destruction disinformation can wreck upon American national security. In this digital age, disinformation is exponentially growing beyond distorted truths circulating online and into a novel approach of weaponizing disinformation to intently disrupt American national security. Most notably, Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign undermined free speech and a fair election, inciting disconfidence in the very institutions built to preserve order. A responding Senate committee reports, moreover to stifling democracy, disinformation is also responsible for exploiting real people. The technological advancements that enable disinformation are unfortunately necessary to remain competitive in the digital era. Yet, it would perhaps be the greatest threat to American national security if failures to address disinformation persist, indicating that it is time for U.S grand strategy to include redesigning outdated regulations and investing in crowdsourcing.

Disinformation’s rise to the forefront of threats against American national security necessitates undertaking enforcement measures. To combat disinformation, U.S leaders should turn towards redesigning the outdated Foreign Actors Registration Act, or FARA, into a countermeasure. Formulated to target foreign propaganda, FARA obligates any “agent” acting on behalf of another foreign power’s interest to register with the Department of Justice and disclose all foreign investors. Though FARA intended to mitigate 1900s foreign propaganda, the principle of FARA is certainly applicable to the 21st century. A lack of regulations enables foreign actors to discreetly disseminate propaganda online through intermediaries. Amended to include American telecommunication systems, FARA would constrain agents of foreign powers to disclose their investments in online content and register their online activities to the DOJ. By requiring registration and disclosure on part of foreign engagers, transparency and accuracy in online content is federally enforced without impeding on the free speech of American citizens. Redesigning FARA will require dissecting a plethora of nuances, however, this pre-established framework is worth considering on account of its principle and adaptability to the digital era.

Redesigning policies alone will not mitigate the threat of disinformation. Such a sophisticated weapon requires a great degree of innovation, which investing in crowdsourcing offers. The practice of crowdsourcing capitalizes on collective intelligence to analyze the legitimacy of information and generate a viewer-curated rank of accuracy. A recent MIT study notes that crowdsourced ratings were indeed successful at differentiating false information and comparable to professional fact-checkers, substantiating crowdsourcing as a viable solution. Rather than marginalize technology companies, crowdsourcing presents the unique opportunity to collaboratively develop the technology needed to both formulate viewer assessments in an algorithm and assemble a central platform wherein average citizens can access rankings and top-ranked content. Despite its novelty, the creation of a secure crowdsourcing network fits accordingly to the types of science and technology operations funded extensively by the Department of Defense. Disinformation threatens American national security by manipulating public perceptions and violating the integrity of democratic principles, nevertheless, crowdsourcing operates from the bottom up to discredit and disassemble the threat itself.

The views represented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Policy Institute.