When it comes to defence of the common knowledge in a democracy, disinfo research that focuses primarily on networks can be problematic.
Just look at recent history.
Since the Kremlin interfered with the US election in 2016, the focus of democracy’s defence has been “the network.” Researchers look for and find malicious accounts there.
But in the era of the attention economy, even focusing on the network can distract us from where we should be looking.
In 2020, a coterie of public figures, including former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, helped push deceptive statements, linked back to Russia, into the American political debate, with the goal of hurting Joe Biden’s candidacy.
By using an ‘influencer’ strategy the Kremlin’s proxies simply cake-walked past the Maginot Line of defense erected by the disinformation research community.
Years earlier, in 2016, the White House’s (and much of the public’s) attention was on the networks of cybersecurity.
But at that time, it was the content on those networks, not the networks themselves, that was the primary target for meddling and mayhem.
In the years ahead, you can expect the venue of the mayhem to change again.
In other words, guessing the vector of an “information attack” is nearly impossible.
So our best long-term defence may not be in patrolling networks.