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Precision Propaganda Is More Than Russia – It’s The Business Model

Research. Data analysis is the rocket fuel for targeted advertising on social media platforms. It is a mistake to fixate on Russia, as it is only one of many online disinformation operators, according to new research on precision propaganda called Digital Deceit. The next generation of disinformation operators will use a robust tool set of digital advertising. It is much more than buying ads on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The true power of the advertising technology market lies in a combination of tools that prepare and enhance these ad buys.

Over the past several years, internet companies have built increasingly effective tools for intelligently targeting digital ads toward individuals depending on their personal preferences. The business case is simple—the more relevant the ad, the more the user will engage with the advertisements they see and the longer they will stay on the platform. It is all built driven by data.For instance, a small business that specializes in selling men’s sneakers in New York City might wish to target males aged 18-35 who are interested in basketball, have visited a major shoe manufacturer’s website in the past seven days, and live in that metro area. Modern advertising technologies allow them to do exactly this with tremendous accuracy and at low cost. Because these services are delivered over advertising platforms that are typically powered by algorithmic sensoring technologies more so than human review, targeted advertisements can be dispatched automatically across thousands of websites and social media feeds simultaneously.

The tools of audience segmentation and targeted advertising are the most important features of digital advertising for disinformation campaigns. Future disinformation campaigns may just as likely be run by domestic operators as foreign ones. These operators will most likely leverage the most dominant U.S. internet platforms to reach tens upon hundreds of millions of Americans. The full range of these disinformation campaigns could produce a grave public harm. In particular, they can progressively weaken the integrity of our democracy by separating citizens from facts and polarizing our political culture, according to the research.

This study also describes how Search Engine Optimizations plays an important role in disinformation campaigns. E.g.companies are spending almost three times as much to optimize organic search results as they are to buy search ads.

All parties in this ecosystem (see illustration) benefit financially from successful advertising campaigns. They have developed brilliant tools to achieve more consistent persuasion. But they have also opened the door to abuses that harm the public by weakening the integrity of democracy.