Using social media to spread mass misinformation

Recent Wikileaks revelations have unleashed a torrent of absurdities on social media. A search of Twitter for #Wikileaks turns up numerous posts making claims that are not supported – yet are eagerly shared and “liked”.

The posts cover the full spectrum from both left and right, and are all absurd.

There are people asserting that a short quote from a Wikileaks document means “X” when the full context shows it does not.

There are quotes that are not in the Wikileaks database, but are falsely passed along as verified Wikileaks documents, when they are not. This could be a disinformation campaign to spread a false message that Wikileaks has fake documents (when it does not).

There are those asserting that all of the Wikileaks documents are fake and created by “Russians” (this uses the propaganda technique of creating a “bogeyman”) even though

  • (a) the Wikileaks documents were hashed and digitally signed using the DomainKey Identified Mail authentication system, used to verify authenticity and confirm no modifications, and
  • (b) no actual evidence has been provided to demonstrate the claims of Russian involvement. Due to the presence of a “phishing attack” email in the Wikileaks collection and email discussion about the content of that phishing email, it appears highly likely this phishing attack was successful. The phishing attack redirected to an IP address in Ukraine, not Russia (but which could have been a proxy server re-directing to elsewhere) where a fake login to GMail occurred, resulting in the capture of John Podesta’s password, which was allegedly “P@ssw0rd”.

DisInformation Social Media Posts

This one is self explanatory – falsely create fears that the Wikileaks documents are laced with viruses and malware. At the time this was posted, only 2,000 documents were posted in the Wikileaks database, making the claim of 33,000+ viruses laughable. The source of the claim is said to be the Twitter account of Dr. Bontchev, a real computer security expert; it would make no sense for Wikileaks to distribute malware because then the reputation of Wikileaks would be in tatters and no one would read their distributed documetns.


The November 5th Anonymous Million Man March resulted in widespread attempts at making the march into something larger than it was, through the distribution of photos of other events.

For example, this photo is said to be of an Anonymous protest taking part in South Africa. In fact, it is, as clearly labeled, it is a stock agency photo of a fracking protest in New York City USA:


Another obviously fake one, using a photo of a different event. Many photos like this, all fake, appeared on Twitter:


Related to Anonymous, leading up to November 5th, there were anonymously posted assertions that Anonymous would release damning videos, photos and documents about the Clintons, on November 5th. This did not happen. Were these claims for future video releases a disinformation campaign intended to make Anonymous look foolish? Possibly.

Authoritative Fake News

Just before the November election, a large collection of “fake news” web sites appeared using then popular #wikileaks and #anonymous Twitter hashtags. These “news” web sites feature “news stories” which mimic legitimate news sites but are typically poorly sourced and exaggerate and jump to unsupported conclusions. Their stories are often written in the form of genuine news reports – even stealing content from legitimate news reports before editing – but if you read carefully, they tend to eventually lead off into space.

This one, for example, links to a web site that runs ads. The “story” that confirms this claims that Wikileaks issued a threatening Tweet, however, their Twitter feed shows no such Tweet. This is a classic example of “click bait” spam that is now filling Twitter, in an attempt to get targets emotionally charged up enough to share this item, thereby generating more eyeballs to advertisers:


The following comes from News Rescue. There is an Alice Crites (a researcher) whose name appears, but there is no reference to an Austyn Crites. I do not know if the Wikileaks search function also searches through email attachments; if it does not, then it is possible the name Austyn Crites shows up in attachments.


Most of these “news” sites have names that sound like real news web sites, but are most likely for profit social media publishing businesses that craft fictional news reports to appeal to conspiracy theorists and left or right wing extremists, who accept these reports without question and quickly like and share on social media.

A partial list of questionable “news” sources widely distributed on Twitter:

As noted on this blog in the past, some of the publishers of “right wing” news describe themselves as left wing Democrats – they have an eye for what gets right wing emotions up, and once inflamed, their target will like and share online. Most contain links back to the publisher’s web site where they sell advertising. Occupy Democrats is a similar model that targets the left with inflammatory posts intended for widespread sharing – and click bait back to their ad-driven web site.

If these posts are successful – and when their claims are frequently false – they educate their targets into stupidity. As many such posts are shared tens of thousands of times, it appears they are successful propaganda efforts.

This is not the way we thought the Internet was going to develop. We thought the Internet would enable people to have access to information and become smarter – however, the Internet is not turning out the way we expected.