Digital Influence Warfare in the Age of Social Media



In Digital Influence Warfare in the Age of Social Media, a lifelong educator and security studies researcher explores how our perceptions and behavior are being influenced online, particularly via social media platforms. Particular attention is focused on efforts to deceive and disinform, provoke suspicion and distrust, and exploit the vulnerabilities of a democratic society. The book describes the strategies, tactics and tools used to persuade and influence a target audience, providing numerous examples involving governments (including Russia, China, Iran and Turkey) and non-state actors (from digital influence mercenaries to anti-science activists, conspiracy theorists, domestic extremists and foreign terrorists).

This book brings together three dimensions of our everyday lives:

Digital:  The online ecosystem of information providers and tools, from websites, blogs, discussion forums and targeted e-mail campaigns to social media, video streaming and virtual reality.

Influence: Drawing from decades of research in psychology, marketing, sociology and other disciplines, we have learned the most effective ways an information provider can persuade other people, to shape their beliefs in ways that lead them to embrace one perspective and reject others.

Warfare: The battlefield is you, and the wars are won by the information and disinformation providers who are able to influence your behavior in ways they find beneficial to their political, social or other goals.

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Chapters of the book examine social psychology, cognitive bias, influence silos, post-truth narratives, fabricating “alternate facts”, provocation and disinformation within the context of various political, scientific, security and societal debates. The discussion also addresses the economic forces of supply and demand that have led to the rise of “digital influence mercenaries”, and implications for the future of democratic societies.

See below for links to a sample collection of relevant
supporting materials from the chapters of DIW:

Use Bot Sentinel to check whether a Twitter account is real or fake

Facebook guidelines for how users can spot fake news

Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities. Report of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate (August 2020). Online at:

Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab, “Confronting the Threat of Disinformation: The Problem,” Google Jigsaw Data Visualizer (February 2020). Online at:

Ben Nimmo, Camille Francois, C. Shawn Eib, et al, “GRU and the Minions,” Graphika (September 2020). Online at:

(PDF) Arie W. Kruglanski and Edward Orehek, “The Need for Certainty as a Psychological Nexus for Individuals and Society,” in Michael Hogg and Danielle Blaylock (eds.) Extremism and the Psychology of Uncertainty (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2012)

Instagram and WhatsApp are the platforms to worry about before the 2020 election,Technology Review (September 3, 2019)


Diego Martin and Jacob Shapiro, Trends in Online Foreign Influence Efforts (July 8, 2019).

Disinfo Cloud / Global Engagement Center: An Introductory Guide to Detecting Disinformation

Twitter policy on platform manipulation and spam

Dorothy Denning, “Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: the Internet As a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy.” in Networks and Netwar, (RAND, 2001).

Mike McIntire, Karen Yourish and Larry Buchanan, “In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies,The New York Times (November 2, 2019)

Shruti Agarwal, Hany Farid, et al. “Protecting World Leaders Against Deep Fakes.” IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR) Workshops, 2019, pp. 38-45.

Preslav Nakov, “New Tech Aims to Help Societies Learn to Spot Fake News,” Defense One (October 14, 2019).

FirstDraft’s Essential Guide to Verifying Online Information (October, 2019).

University of Cambridge, “Fake News ‘Vaccine’ works: ‘Pre-bunking’ game reduces susceptibility to disinformation.” Science Daily (June 24, 2019).

Bad News Game – Your task is to get as many followers as you can while slowly building up fake credibility as a news site.

Lists of fake news media outlets

Patrick Tucker, “How to Inoculate the Public Against Fake News,” Defense One (February 19, 2018)

Carlotta Dotto and Sebatien Cubbon, “How to spot a bot (or not): The main indicators of online automation, co-ordination and inauthentic activity,” FirstDraft (November 28, 2019). Online at:

Christopher Costa and Joshua Geltzer, “To Fight Disinformation, Rethink Counterintelligence,” Defense One (October 14, 2019).

Davey Alba and Adam Satariano, “At Least 70 Countries Have Had Disinformation Campaigns, Study Finds,” New York Times (Sept. 26, 2019)

Paul M. Barrett. Disinformation and the 2020 Election: How the Social Media Industry Should Prepare. NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, September 2019

Media Forensics program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Renee DiResta, Kris Shaffer, et al. The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency. New Knowledge, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and Canfield Research. 2019.

Fake News: BBC and Tech Firms join forces to fight disinformation.” BBC News (September 7, 2019).

Piret Pernik, Hacking for Influence: Foreign Influence Activities and Cyber-Attacks (February 2018). RKK International Center for Defense and Security, Estonia

Michael J. Mazarr, Abigail Casey et al. Hostile Social Manipulation: Present Realities and Emerging Trends. RAND Corp, September 2019.

Will Knight, “The world’s top deepfake artist is wrestling with the monster he created.” Technology Review (August 16, 2019)

Jean-Baptiste J. Vilmer, et al. Information Manipulation: A Challenge for our Democracies. A Report by the Policy Planning Staff (CAPS, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs) and Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM, Ministry for the Armed Forces), Republic of France, Paris. August, 2018.

J.M. Berger, A Brief History of Extremism, From Ancient Rome to al Qaeda

Joshua Tucker et al., “Social Media Political Polarization and Political Disinformation: A Review of the Scientific Literature” (Hewlett Foundation, March 2018)

Philip N. Howard, Bharath Ganesh, et al. The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018. Computational Propaganda Research Project, University of Oxford, 2019.

United States of America v. Internet Research Agency LLC a/k/a/ Mediasintez LLC et al (Federal indictment filed 2/26/18 in United States District Court or the District of Columbia).

David Byrne, The Echo Chamber (2016)

Conspiracyland (Podcast) episodes, by Michael Isikoff

FBI Intelligence Bulletin: “Conspiracy Theories Very Likely Motivate Some Domestic Extremists,” Phoenix Field Office (May 30, 2019)

United States Senate, 116th Congress. Report of the Senate Committee on Intelligence on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Election, Volume 1 (Report 116-XX).

Samuel C. Woolley and Douglas R. Guilbeault, “Computational Propaganda in the United States of America: Manufacturing Consensus Online,“ University of Oxford, Computational Propaganda Research Project, Working Paper No. 2017.5

Zac Rogers, Emily Bienvenue, and Maryanne Kelton, “The New Age of Propaganda: Understanding Influence Operations in the Digital Age,” War on the Rocks (May 1, 2019)

Hannah Murphy, “Inside Facebook’s Information Warfare Team,” Financial Times (July 5, 2019).

Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism

Egor Zakharav, et al. “Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models,” Cornell University, Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, (May 20, 2019).

Samantha Cole, “It’s Getting Way Too Easy to Create Fake Videos of People’s Faces,” Motherboard/Tech by Vice (May 23, 2019)

Examples of realistic Instagram memes created by powerful computer graphics equipment combined with Artificial Intelligence

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Interim Briefing: Propaganda and Digital Campaigning in the EU Elections (London: ISD, 2019).

Kate Conger and Jack Nicas, “Twitter Bars Alex Jones and Infowars, Citing Harassing Messages,” The New York Times (Sept. 6, 2018).

Paul M. Barrett. Tackling Domestic Disinformation: What the Social Media Companies Need to Do. NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, March 2019

Abby Noman, “Welcome to the Age of Digital Warfare,Futurism (December 8, 2017)

Jen Weedon, William Nuland and Alex Stamos. “Information Operations and Facebook” (Facebook, 2017)

Naomi Orekes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Key Documents)

Karen Douglas, et al. “Why Do People Adopt Conspiracy Theories, How Are They Communicated, and What Are Their Risks” CREST Research, UK (multiple project reports, 2019)

Facebook “Community Standards Enforcement” reports

Mike Isaac and Kevin Roose, “Facebook Bars Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan and Others from its Services,” The New York Times (May 2, 2019).

Enrique Dans, “Stopping Fake News Through Technology,” Medium, (Feb. 11, 2017).

Will Knight, “Fake American Great Again: Inside the race to catch the worryingly real fakes that can be made using artificial intelligence.”Technology Review (August 17, 2018).

Collin Crowell, “Our Approach to Bots & Misinformation” (Twitter, June 14, 2017)

John Arquilla and David Ronfeld, Networks and Netwars (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2001

Cliff Kincaid, “How Putin Uses KGB-style ‘Active Measures’,” Accuracy in Media (April 9, 2014)

Chinese Cyberattack Hits Telegram, App Used by Hong Kong Protesters, New York Times (June 13, 2019)

Amy Gunia, “Facebook Tightens Live-Stream Rules in Response to the Christchurch Massacre,” Time (May 15, 2019).

Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet, “Inside the Surreal World of the Islamic State’s Propaganda Machine,” Washington Post (November 20, 2015)

Andy Greenberg, “Alphabet-Owned Jigsaw Bought a Russian Troll Campaign as an Experiment,” Wired (June 12, 2019)

Joseph G. Lehman, “An Introduction to the Overton Window of Political Possibility,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy, April 8, 2010.

Craig Silverman, “This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News on Facebook,“ BuzzFeed News , November 16, 2016

Matt Apuzzo and Adam Satariano, “Russia is Targeting Europe’s Elections. So are Far-Right Copycats,” New York Times (May 12, 2019).

Robert Faris et al., “Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, August 2017

Aja Romano, “How the Christchurch shooter used memes to spread hate,” Vox (March 16, 2019).

ISIS Video shows Jordanian pilot being burned“ CBS News (February 3, 2015).

Gregory Waters and Robert Postings. Spiders of the Caliphate: Mapping the Islamic State’s Global Support Network on Facebook (May 2018). Counter Extremism Project.

Dr. Celeste Wallander, “US-Russia Relations After the Mueller Report: ‘Salami Tactics’ and Putin’s Revisionist Dream” (interview March 30, 2019).

Kevin Roose and Kate Conger, “YouTube to Remove Thousands of videos Pushing Extreme Views,” The New York Times (June 5, 2019).

Claire Wardle, “6 Types of Misinformation circulated this election season,” Columbia Journalism Review, November 18, 2016

The (almost) complete history of ‘fake news,’BBC Trending (January 22, 2018).

Samantha Cole, “Americans Don’t Need Deepfakes to Believe Lies About Nancy Pelosi,” Motherboard/Tech by Vice (May 24, 2019).

Andrea Berger, et al. Op#36: The Shadow Sector: North Korea’s Information Technology Networks. (May 7, 2018). James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey.

About the Author: Dr. James J.F. Forest is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell School of Criminology & Justice Studies, and a Visiting Professor at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. He is also co-editor of the journal Perspectives on Terrorism and has previously served as a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Joint Special Operations University, and as a Director of Terrorism Studies at at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.