There’s plenty of disinformation out there, from plenty of sources. Often it is aimed at particular demographic groups. Vietnam Veterans of America became concerned about disinformation targeted at veterans and went to the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments to ask for help. They didn’t get any. VVA has since prepared a detailed report and testified to Congress.
Kristofer Goldsmith has done much of the organization’s investigating. An in-depth portrait of him here.
Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts, have spread memes and political commentary in the veteran community, often pro-Trump and championing veterans and denigrating liberals and minorities. Some of the accounts counterfeit the look of authentic veterans’ groups like VVA.
For instance, the Russian Internet Research Agency — a troll factory with Kremlin ties and the target of U.S. indictments and cyberattacks — bought at least 113 online ads aimed at U.S. veterans and followers of veterans advocacy groups during and after the 2016 election, according to VVA’s report.
Many pages are operated from Asia and Eastern Europe, and some even have Iranian ties, Goldsmith said. One popular page created in the United States — “Vets for Trump” — was hijacked by an administrator in North Macedonia.
One page, “Being Patriotic,” was cited in former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation as a product of the Internet Research Agency. It amassed 200,000 fans at one point, the Mueller report found. But other pages, like one focused on veterans but run from Vietnam, shared identical memes created by the IRA but with the page title cropped out.
One of the objectives seems to be to whitewash Russian and Chinese behavior to convince veterans that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 elections, for example. Or that ISIS was threatening military families in America.
It appears that the federal agencies don’t have any plans or programs in place to help veterans deal with this targeting.
The material targeted at veterans carries many of the same messages as other disinformation for other groups. The targeting makes it more plausible, focusing on the group’s special concerns and vulnerabilities. Other groups are targeted for their concerns and vulnerabilities.
The Washington Post article and the deep dive on Goldsmith are both worth reading. If you’re interested in how disinformation works, take a look at the report. Their focus is on veterans, but it’s relevant for all of us.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice