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Internet manipulation refers to media manipulation on the Internet.

Such manipulation may be conducted for purposes of propaganda, discreditation, harming corporate or political competitors, improving personal or brand reputation or plain trolling among other things. To accomplish these objectives, online influencers, hired professionals and/or software − typically Internet bots such as social bots, votebots and clickbots − may be used.

Cognitive hacking refers to a cyberattack that aims to change users’ perceptions and corresponding behaviors.

Internet manipulation is sometimes also used to describe selective Internet censorshipor violations of net neutrality.


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High-arousal emotion virality: It has been found that content that evokes high-arousal emotions (e.g. awe, anger or anxiety) is more viral and that this also hold when surprisingness, interestingness, or usefulness is taken into consideration.

Simplicity over complexity: Providing and perpetuating simple explanations for complex circumstances may be used for online manipulation. Often such are easier to believe, come in advance of any adequate investigations and have a higher virality than any complex, nuanced explanations and information.

Peer-influence: Prior collective ratings of an web content influences ones own perception of it. In 2015 it was shown that the perceived beauty of a piece of artwork in an online context varies with external influence as confederate ratings were manipulated by opinion and credibility for participants of an experiment who were asked to evaluate a piece of artwork. Furthermore, on Reddit it has been found that content that initially gets a few down- or upvotes often continues going negative, or vice versa. This is referred to as “bandwagon/snowball voting” by reddit users and administrators.

Filter bubbles: Echo chambers and filter bubbles might be created by Website administrators or moderators locking out people with altering viewpoints or by establishing certain rules or by the typical member viewpoints of online sub/communities or Internet “tribes”.

Confirmation bias & manipulated prevalence: Fake news do not need to be read but has an effect in quantity and emotional effect by its headlines and sound bites alone.[citation needed] Specific points, views, issues and people’s apparent prevalence can be amplified, stimulated or simulated.

Information timeliness and uncorrectability: Clarifications, conspiracy busting and fake news exposure often come late when the damage is already done and/or do not reach the bulk of the audience of the associated misinformation

Psychological targeting: Social media activities and other data can be used to analyze the personality of people and predict their behaviour and preferences. Dr Michal Kosinski developed such a procedure. Such can be used for media or information tailored to a person’s psyche e.g. via Facebook. According to reports such may have played an integral part in Donald Trump’s win.

Research and use by intelligence and military agencies

Some of the leaked JTRIG operation methods/techniques

The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) is a unit of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British intelligence agency.[1] The existence of JTRIG was revealed as part of the global surveillance disclosures in documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

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Psychological warfare, State-sponsored Internet propaganda, Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, and CIA influence on public opinion
The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group unit of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British intelligence agency  was revealed as part of the global surveillance disclosures in documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and its mission scope includes using “dirty tricks” to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies.

Core-tactics include injecting false material onto the Internet in order to destroy the reputation of targets and manipulating online discourse and activism for which methods such as posting material to the Internet and falsely attributing it to someone else, pretending to be a victim of the target individual whose reputation is intended to be destroyed and posting “negative information” on various forums may be used.

Known as “Effects” operations, the work of JTRIG had become a “major part” of GCHQ’s operations by 2010.

The unit’s online propaganda efforts (named “Online Covert Action”) utilize “mass messaging” and the “pushing [of] stories” via the medium of Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube.

Online “false flag” operations are also used by JTRIG against targets.

JTRIG have also changed photographs on social media sites, as well as emailing and texting colleagues and neighbours with “unsavory information” about the targeted individual.

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In June 2015, NSA files published by Glenn Greenwald revealed new details about JTRIG’s work at covertly manipulating online communities.[20] The disclosures also revealed the technique of “credential harvesting”, in which journalists could be used to disseminate information and identify non-British journalists who, once manipulated, could give information to the intended target of a secret campaign, perhaps providing access during an interview.

It is unknown whether the journalists would be aware that they were being manipulated.

Furthermore, Russia is frequently accused of financing an “trolls” to post pro-Russian opinions across the Internet.

The Internet Research Agency has become known for employing hundreds of Russians to post propaganda online under fake identities in order to create the illusion of massive support.

In 2016 Russia was accused of sophisticated propaganda campaign to spread fake news with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton and helping Republican Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election as well as undermining faith in American democracy.

In 2017 report Facebook publicly stated that its site has been exploited by governments for the manipulation of public opinion in other countries – including during the presidential elections in the US and France.

It identified three main components involved in an information operations campaign: targeted data collection, content creation and false amplification and includes stealing and exposing information that’s not public; spreading stories, false or real, to third parties through fake accounts; and fake accounts being coordinated to manipulate political discussion, such as amplifying some voices while repressing others.

In politics

In 2016 Andrés Sepúlveda disclosed that he manipulated public opinion to rig elections in Latin America. According to him with a budget of $600,000 he led a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices to help Enrique Peña Nieto, a right-of-center candidate, win the election.

In the run up to India’s 2014 elections, both the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and the Congress party were accused of hiring “political trolls” to talk favourably about them on blogs and social media.

The Chinese government is also believed to run a so-called “50-cent army” (a reference to how much they are said to paid) and the “Internet Water Army” to reinforce favourable opinion towards it and the Communist Party of China (CCP) as well as to suppress dissent.

In December 2014 the Ukrainian information ministry was launched to counter Russian propaganda with one of its first tasks being the creation of social media accounts (also known as the i-Army) and amassing friends posing as residents of eastern Ukraine.


Trolling and other applications

In April 2009, Internet trolls of 4chan voted Christopher Poole, founder of the site, as the world’s most influential person of 2008 with 16,794,368 votes by an open Internet poll conducted by Timemagazine.[35] The results were questioned even before the poll completed, as automated voting programs and manual ballot stuffing were used to influence the vote.

4chan’s interference with the vote seemed increasingly likely, when it was found that reading the first letter of the first 21 candidates in the poll spelled out a phrase containing two 4chan memes: “mARBLECAKE. ALSO, THE GAME”.


Jokesters and politically oriented hacktivists may share sophisticated knowledge of how to manipulate the Web and social media.


In Wired it was noted that nation-state rules such as compulsory registration and threats of punishment are not adequate measures to combat the problem of online bots.

To guard against the issue of prior ratings influencing perception several websites such as Reddit have taken steps such as hiding the vote-count for a specified time.

Some other potential measures under discussion are flagging posts for being likely satire or false.

For instance in December 2016 Facebook announced that disputed articles will be marked with the help of users and outside fact checkers.The company seeks ways to identify ‘information operations’ and fake accounts and suspended 30,000 accounts before the presidential election in France in a strike against information operations.


Inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee considers putting few companies in charge of deciding what is or isn’t true a risky proposition and states that openness can make the web more truthful. As an example he points to Wikipedia which, while not being perfect, allows anyone to edit with the key to its success being not just the technology but the governance of the site − its coordination of countless volunteers and ways of determining what is or isn’t true.

Furthermore various kinds of software may be used to combat this problem such as fake checking software or voluntary browser extensions that store every website one reads or use the browsing history to deliver fake-revealments to those who read a fake story after some kind of consensus was found on the falsehood of a story.

Furthermore Daniel Suarez asks society to value critical analytic thinking and suggests education reforms such as the introduction of ‘formal logic’ as a discipline in schools and training in media literacy and objective evaluation


German chancellor Angela Merkel has issued the Bundestag to deal with the possibilities of political manipulation by social bots or fake news.


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See also

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