OP#37: All the World is Staged

September 12, 2018
Jack O. Nassetta and Ethan P. Fecht

OP#37: All the World is Staged: An Analysis of Social Media Influence Operations against US Counterproliferation Efforts in Syria

Though much of the scrutiny into foreign interference in US political debates focuses on long-term election operations, foreign actors have now turned to social media to conduct short-term tactical operations. These operations aim to affect American attitudes toward specific US foreign and military policy, and ultimately affect the policy itself. In recent years, state actors and loosely affiliated patriotic operators have inorganically inserted themselves into the political discussion surrounding US intervention in Syria following the use of chemical weapons. Through continually evolving techniques, these “synthetic actors” are likely the main driving force behind shaping the character of the counternarrative discussion surrounding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“All the World is Staged: An Analysis of Social Media Influence Operations against US Counterproliferation Efforts in Syria,” CNS Occasional Paper #37, seeks to analyze the tradecraft, trends, themes, and possible effects of disinformation produced by suspected synthetic actors (i.e., bots, trolls, and cyborgs) on Twitter concerning chemical weapons use in Syria. Although it is highly likely these synthetic actors exist on other social media platforms as well, this analysis focuses exclusively on Twitter, since the open nature of the platform allows for study without special access. Furthermore, we aim to improve public and academic awareness of foreign, inorganic disinformation efforts against our domestic decision-making processes. We hope that this text contributes to the efforts to prevent the erosion of the integrity of the political conversations that matter most. It concludes with salient recommendations for both policy makers and social network companies, focusing on how they can prevent synthetic actors from abusing their platforms for influence operations.

Read the full report.

The Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage blog published a summary of the report’s findings, on the eve of another suspected chemical weapon attack in Syria, as evidence of Russia’s impending disinformation campaign mounted.

This report was made possible by the generous support of the Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund.

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