To fight the spread of fake news, we need to learn all we can about social media manipulators–including their cultural values.
Fake news affects us all, and it’s on the rise.
While Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites were not designed to be primary news outlets, a majority of U.S. citizens admit to using social media to get their news. This habit, while convenient, is not without its risks: social media manipulators find in these platforms a low-cost environment full of viral potential. Given our growing understanding of the risks and consequences of social media manipulation, how can we develop effective responses to this problem?
An understanding of national cultural values can help.
I recently contributed to a study—as part of a team of industry, government, and academic experts—that seeks to identify the common cultural values of the purveyors of fake news. The results of the study were presented at the European Conference on Cybersecurity and Warfare 2018 and are featured in an article entitled “A Cultural Exploration of Social Media Manipulators” in the most recent publication of the “Journal for Information Warfare."
The study finds that cultural values play an important role in the creation and dissemination of misinformation—and we can use this cultural understanding to craft more effective responses to fake news.
A look at the shared cultural values of social media manipulators
The production and spread of state-sponsored propaganda involves technical, operational, and behavioral considerations. The study focuses on the behavioral aspects of fake news. It explores trust-exploiting behaviors through the lens of national cultural values to look for patterns in the purveyors of fake news. Our shared objective in doing this work was to find out how national cultural values influence social media manipulation.
To explore this question, we turned to social psychologist Geert Hofstede for guidance. Hofstede introduced six dimensions of national cultures. The study examines the challenge of fake news through the Hofstede framework. Hofstede’s six cultural values are:
- Power Distance Index: Explores the spectrum of societal ideals from authoritarian to egalitarian.
- Individualism versus Collectivism: Defines how societal individuals view themselves in relation to larger society.
- Feminine versus Masculine: Examines how society deals with conflict.
- Uncertainty Avoidance: Focuses on how a society deals with the unknown.
- Long-term versus Short-term Orientation: Defines a society’s inclination toward instant versus delayed gratification.
- Indulgence versus Restraint: Looks at how members of a society express themselves, from stoic to celebratory.
It’s particularly interesting to consider the “feminine versus masculine” dimension here—masculine societies deal with problems directly and assign winners and losers, while feminine societies are more inclined to compromise and negotiate. Which type of society do you think is more likely to engage in social media manipulation? Can cultural values also associate with a greater chance of victimization?
The study’s findings imply a relationship between cultural values and the use of social media to disseminate propaganda. The implication is that this relationship between cultural values and cyber behaviors may provide insights into how adversaries may take seemingly benign technologies and use them in unintended—and even unanticipated—ways.
Crafting culturally-aware responses to fake news
The findings discussed in the article, while exploratory in nature, add to the growing body of knowledge of adversarial behaviors by placing the behaviors in the context of cultural values. An enhanced cultural understanding of our adversaries will allow us to craft more effective responses to social media manipulation. Armed with this information, we can build a defense and countering response that is able to be customized, enhanced, and perhaps ultimately automated—moving us closer to a future where “fake news” is a relic from the past.