Internet Viral Lies and Public Indoctrination
In mid January, 2021, a few days after internet viral lies influenced a mob to attack the US Capitol, I wrote a blog post about information warfare. I made the case that internet viral lies are at the heart of cybersecurity, but we in the cybersecurity community missed it.
I was right. The Rand Corporation even backed me up with a paper about Russian propaganda using the squirt gun of truth against a firehose of falsehoods as a metaphor.
But I didn’t take it far enough. Internet viral lies leading to public indoctrination are just one form of Information warfare.
In the academic ivory tower, cybersecurity deals with the famous CIA triad; confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. We spend most of our time on confidentiality. In the real world, data integrity violations lead to public indoctrination around internet viral lies, grooming, bullying, riots, slavery, and death. We need to spend more time on integrity.
Grooming vs. Internet Viral Lies
While internet viral lies travel far and fast, grooming tends to stay close and secret. The Cambridge Dictionary offers a typical definition.
the criminal activity of becoming friends with a child in order to try to persuade the child to have a sexual relationshiphttps://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/grooming
That definition should expand to include vulnerable adults because Satan groomed Eve into disobeying God a long time ago. Today, human traffickers and terrorists use social media to entice vulnerable people into slavery. The stories are gut-wrenching. Here is one of many.
I used fiction to show a few grooming stories. In “Virus Bomb,” an attacker grooms a vulnerable Muslim young man and persuades him to participate in plot that could kill millions. My latest novel shows more online grooming, leading two young women into slavery. In the real world, if I were a trafficker today, here’s how I would find grooming victims.
Back in 2017, I hired an editor to critique a “Virus Bomb” draft. She did not believe anyone raised in the United States would succumb to terrorist grooming. She was wrong. Real-world stories about Somali terrorists recruiting young men from Minneapolis inspired that fictional character.
Today, politicians and pundits who should know better label classroom education, and exposure to ideas they don’t like as grooming. This is also wrong. Public indoctrination–maybe–and a topic for a different blog post–but not grooming. When they label it as grooming, they help traffickers and terrorists lead vulnerable people into slavery and death by obscuring real grooming.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines bullying like this:
abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bullying
We’ve all seen stories about teen-age cyber-bullying leading to suicide, and demands for social media companies to clamp down on it.
In 2021 in Hastings, Minnesota, a group of idiots in a Facebook group spread internet viral lies about an eight-year-old child because the child’s mother was chair of the local school board and campaigned for a COVID mask mandate. The CNN article generated an outpouring of support, which was good, but the family never wanted any publicity and chose to leave town to protect their children.
In 2019, Dakota County, Minnesota tried to bully my family because of an internet viral lie. My family spent thousands of dollars to win that battle. Don’t believe anyone who says you can’t fight city hall.
What do we do about it?
I tried to find some common tactic or technology unifying all these attacks. That lead to a dead-end. The best defense tactics I can find revolve around personal responsibility because no technology or algorithm or legislation will ever cure these problems. There will never be a substitute for personal responsibility.
Guard against internet viral lies and public indoctrination by searching for and studying opposite points of view. Make reasoned decisions on who to believe, and if you feel strongly about a topic, add your voice to the discussion. Nobody will amplify your thoughts, but at least you’ll have them handy when you want to help friends from falling victim to the hysteria of the moment. Keep personal insults and inflammatory language out of anything you post or say in public. If enough people influence friends and family away from hysteria toward rationality, maybe we can avoid another insurrection attempt after the next election cycle.
Guard against online grooming by recognizing it and calling it out. Just like traditional cyberattackers prey on technology vulnerabilities, traffickers and terrorists use social media to prey on psychological vulnerabilities. The Polaris Project offers guidance based on real research. The International Justice Mission also offers a wealth of information. Parents, send your teenage daughters to this blog post envisioning thinking like a trafficker. It’s the creepiest blog post I’ve ever written. You’ll hate it. And that’s why you’ll love it.
Pew Research posted a December, 2022 report about online bullying. The summary: bullying affects about half of all teenagers, and don’t look for institutional solutions anytime soon. This US Government website offers ideas, but do not expect magic bullet solutions.
I don’t have any research studies to back this up, but I teach my grandsons to never back down to bullies. Not on the playground, not when they wear nice suits in a courtroom, and not online. If you’re an online bullying victim, find help coping. If you’re a bully, stop acting like an idiot and get a life. If you witness online bullying, offer support for the victim and help make things right.
None of this is new. If I run across anything better, I’ll write another blog post about it and link to it from here.
One quick update. A few days after I originally posted this, Nomhle Mcunu contacted me with a couple of links that might be helpful. The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers an article, “How and Why Bullying Leads to Addiction in Kids.” And the Recovery Village website offers, “Exploring the Link Between Social Media and Depression,” including tips for parents. I’ll put links to these treatment centers on my substance abuse page.