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The cat-and-mouse game of ferreting out influence operations

Fake accounts that pop up by the thousand overnight. Content farms for hire that churn out material to tear down opponents or as clickbait for ad revenue. Perception hacking to fool people into an alternate reality. Welcome to the evolving world of influence operations.

Influence operations to manipulate public opinion can now be mounted with ease and anonymity using influence networks for hire. PHOTO: REUTERS
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Way back in 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously dismissed as "pretty crazy" the notion that Russian networks were spreading divisive messages to influence the 2016 United States presidential election. Much later, he had to admit the platform was a conduit for fake election news.

In the five years since, Facebook and other social media companies have awakened to the threat that influence operations (IOs) pose to their platforms. Most now have dedicated teams to protect their platforms from such manipulation; some are working together; and all want to work with government, academics and civil society groups.

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