How to increase resilience against unwanted influence on social media

FFI-Report 2021
This publication is only available in Norwegian

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Eskil Grendahl Sivertsen Nina Hellum Arild Bergh Anne Lise Bjørnstad
Malign influence through disinformation in social media has become a visible societal challenge. This has been especially evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, during which the spread of disinformation has had a direct impact on life and health in several countries and threatened to undermine trust among populations and to government institutions. This shows how important and necessary it is to strengthen society’s resilience against malign influence in social media. The aim of this report is to increase knowledge and awareness among Norwegian authorities and public institutions, the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Total Defence actors on disinformation and influence operations in social media. Its purpose is to contribute to improved preparedness and resilience. Influence operations are usually covert and their origins clouded. That makes them difficult to detect without knowledge, effective methods and digital tools. This report seeks to answer the question of how to increase resilience against unwanted influence on social media, by addressing four key sub-questions – the latter also being the conclusion. •How are Norwegian citizens influenced by disinformation and influence attempts in social media?•Which specific methods and platforms are used in influence operations/attempts?•Which actors are performing influence operations against Norway?•Which measures should be considered in order to increase resilience against unwanted influence on social media? The report describes and explains disinformation and influence operations, and identifies key vulnerabilities of the Norwegian society in facing the threat from both. Furthermore, it presents specific methods and platforms for influence operations as well as the underlying psychological processes that make them effective. Both state and non-state actors can initiate influence operations against Norway. Actors range from foreign states like Russia and China to terrorist organizations, criminals and different interest groups. The report presents a number of recommendations on how to strengthen our resilience against unwanted influence on social media. The recommendations include risk and vulnerability analyses, methods for detecting and dealing with disinformation, development of digital tools and ways to increase awareness across governmental sectors and in society as a whole. Continuous knowledge building in this field is necessary, due to the rapid development of technology and the cyber-social information domain. Influence operations constitute a significant part of so-called “hybrid threats”. As such, this report concludes that such operations should be met with a whole-of-society approach across government sectors and the established separations of responsibilities, namely state vs. societal security, civilian vs. military and the increasingly irrelevant threshold definitions between peace, crisis and war.

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