Fighting Disinformation Online: A Database of Web Tools

Fighting Disinformation Online: A Database of Web Tools. RAND Corporation. Jennifer Kavanagh, Hilary Reininger, Norah Griffin. November 12, 2019

The rise of the internet and the advent of social media have fundamentally changed the information ecosystem, giving the public direct access to more information than ever before. But it’s often nearly impossible to distinguish between accurate information and low-quality or false content. This means that disinformation — false or intentionally misleading information that aims to achieve an economic or political goal — can become rampant, spreading further and faster online than it ever could in another format.

As part of its Truth Decay initiative, RAND is responding to this urgent problem. Researchers identified and characterized the universe of online tools developed by nonprofits and civil society organizations to target online disinformation. The tools in this database are aimed at helping information consumers, researchers, and journalists navigate today’s challenging information environment. Researchers identified and characterized each tool on a number of dimensions, including the type of tool, the underlying technology, and the delivery format.

The Emerging Risk of Virtual Societal Warfare: Social Manipulation in a Changing Information Environment

The Emerging Risk of Virtual Societal Warfare: Social Manipulation in a Changing Information Environment. RAND Corporation.  Michael J. Mazarr et al. October 9, 2019.

The evolution of advanced information environments is rapidly creating a new category of possible cyberaggression that involves efforts to manipulate or disrupt the information foundations of the effective functioning of economic and social systems. RAND researchers are calling this growing threat virtual societal warfare in an analysis of its characteristics and implications for the future.

To understand the risk of virtual societal warfare, the authors surveyed evidence in a range of categories to sketch out some initial contours of how these techniques might evolve in the future. They grounded the assessment in (1) detailed research on trends in the changing character of the information environment in the United States and other advanced democracies; (2) the insights of social science research on attitudes and beliefs; and (3) developments in relevant emerging technologies that bear on the practices of hostile social manipulation and its more elaborate and dangerous cousin, virtual societal warfare. The authors then provide three scenarios for how social manipulation could affect advanced societies over the next decade. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 215 pages].

Will America Embrace National Service?

Will America Embrace National Service? Brookings Institution. John Bridgeland and John J. DiIulio. October 10, 2019

America’s civic health is in significant decline. The percentage of Americans who say others can be trusted fell from 46 percent in 1972 to just 31 percent in 2016, with 36 percent of Whites and 17 percent of Blacks expressing such trust; and, in recent years, trust in the media, government, and the courts has fallen to historic lows.1 It is no surprise that communities are fraying in places like Charlottesville, Ferguson and Baltimore, and that America is not fulfilling its potential, as political institutions suffer from partisan gridlock, and the institutions that serve as checks on power and as guarantors of individual rights are increasingly under attack.  

One powerful idea to rebuild our civic bridges is universal national service—an expectation and opportunity that young people as they come of age perform a year or more of military or civilian national service. Such service would bring young people from different backgrounds, income levels, races, ethnicities, and areas of the country together in shared experiences to solve public challenges as they form their attitudes and habits early in life. Many would discover that they are leaders—the kind of leaders who could work across differences to get things done. There would be other positive effects.

This paper examines the case for national service, highlights the various ways in which that service could unfold, and concludes that large-scale national service is needed in America now.   [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 36 pages].

European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism

European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism. Pew Research Center. Richard Wike et al. October 15, 2019.

Most embrace democracy and the EU, but many worry about the political and economic future

Thirty years ago, a wave of optimism swept across Europe as walls and regimes fell, and long-oppressed publics embraced open societies, open markets and a more united Europe. Three decades later, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that few people in the former Eastern Bloc regret the monumental changes of 1989-1991. Yet, neither are they entirely content with their current political or economic circumstances. Indeed, like their Western European counterparts, substantial shares of Central and Eastern European citizens worry about the future on issues like inequality and the functioning of their political systems. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 189 pages].

Hostile Social Manipulation: Present Realities and Emerging Trends

Hostile Social Manipulation: Present Realities and Emerging Trends. RAND Corporation.  Michael J. Mazarr et al. September 4, 2019.

The role of information warfare in global strategic competition has become much more apparent in recent years. Today’s practitioners of what this report’s authors term hostile social manipulation employ targeted social media campaigns, sophisticated forgeries, cyberbullying and harassment of individuals, distribution of rumors and conspiracy theories, and other tools and approaches to cause damage to the target state. These emerging tools and techniques represent a potentially significant threat to U.S. and allied national interests. This report represents an effort to better define and understand the challenge by focusing on the activities of the two leading authors of such techniques — Russia and China. The authors conduct a detailed assessment of available evidence of Russian and Chinese social manipulation efforts, the doctrines and strategies behind such efforts, and evidence of their potential effectiveness. RAND analysts reviewed English-, Russian-, and Chinese-language sources; examined national security strategies and policies and military doctrines; surveyed existing public-source evidence of Russian and Chinese activities; and assessed multiple categories of evidence of effectiveness of Russian activities in Europe, including public opinion data, evidence on the trends in support of political parties and movements sympathetic to Russia, and data from national defense policies. The authors find a growing commitment to tools of social manipulation by leading U.S. competitors. The findings in this report are sufficient to suggest that the U.S. government should take several immediate steps, including developing a more formal and concrete framework for understanding the issue and funding additional research to understand the scope of the challenge. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 302 pages].

Inequality as a Multidimensional Process

Inequality as a Multidimensional Process. Daedalus: Journal. Summer 2019.

Rising inequality is one of our most pressing social concerns. And it is not simply that some are advantaged while others are not, but that structures of inequality are self-reinforcing and cumulative; they become durable. The societal arrangements that in the past have produced more equal economic outcomes and social opportunities – such as expanded mass education, access to social citizenship and its benefits, and wealth redistribution – have often been attenuated and supplanted by processes that are instead inequality-inducing. This issue of Dædalus draws on a wide range of expertise to better understand and examine how economic conditions are linked, across time and levels of analysis, to other social, psychological, political, and cultural processes that can either counteract or reinforce durable inequalities. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

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