EU Science Hub

Understanding Citizens' Vulnerabilities to Disinformation and Data-Driven Propaganda

Abstract: 
Disinformation strategies have evolved from “hack and dump” cyber-attacks, and randomly sharing conspiracy or made-up stories, into a more complex ecosystem where narratives are used to feed people with emotionally charged true and false information, ready to be “weaponised” when necessary. Manipulated information, using a mix of emotionality and rationality, has recently become so pervasive and powerful to the extent of rewriting reality, where the narration of facts (true, partial or false) counts more than the facts themselves. Every day, an incredible amount of information is constantly produced on the web. Its diffusion is driven by algorithms, originally conceived for the commercial market, and then maliciously exploited for manipulative purposes and to build consensus. Citizens' vulnerability to disinformation operations is not only the result of the threats posed by hostile actors or psychometric profiling - which can be seen as both exploiters and facilitators - but essentially due to the effect of three different factors: Information overload; Distorted public perceptions produced by online platforms algorithms built for viral advertising and user engagement; The complex iteration of fast technology development, globalisation, and post-colonialism, which have rapidly changed the rules-based international order. In rapidly and dynamically evolving environments, increasing citizens' resilience against malicious attacks is, ultimately, of paramount importance to protect our open democratic societies, social values and individual rights and freedoms.