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Computational Propaganda around the World

I arrived late to the final AoIR 2017 session on computational propaganda, and I think it's Samantha Bradshaw speaking at the moment. She's presenting the overall Computational Propaganda project at the University of Oxford, which from secondary source research identified some 23 countries that were known to be using some kind of informational warfare online at this stage.

The recent report from the project identifies social media uses in computational propaganda since 2010, which mainly focus inwardly and target domestic audiences; authoritarian regimes are especially active. Democratic countries are more likely to target external audiences, but sometimes also target specific domestic parties. Such countries were often the first to develop computational propaganda approaches, especially in their military sectors; this finding contradicts conventional understandings that believe that autocratic regimes started the recent trend towards computational propaganda.

Across the countries examined, governments, political parties, civil society actors, citizens, and private contractors were variously implicated in reports of computational propaganda activities. Governments may engage both positively, negatively, and neutrally with citizens, and in some cases use direct individual targetting of specific citizens and civic actors; where fake accounts are used, they may employ a mix of automated, human, or cyborg models.

Obviously, different governments' capacities to carry out such activities vary widely, too, and the funds devoted to such work also run from a few thousand dollars to double-digit figures in the millions. Some also engage in capacity-building activities, for instance by offering scholarships to students working in these areas.

To address all this, there is a need to develop new regulatory approaches; these also need to be attuned to the specific local contexts, of course. Regulations may need to deal both with domestic and foreign activities, and this will also affect relationships between states. The starting point here may be new norms, before these are encoded more formally into law.