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The Stanford Internet Observatory and Covert Influence Operations

With the technological infrastructure that physicists and astronomers have brought to bear for decades as its foundational metaphor, the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) was launched two years ago to create an equally as powerful social sciences-based “Observatory” for internet researchers:

“…the political and social sciences have been slow to build their capabilities to study the negative impact of technology, partially due to a lack of data access, information processing resources, and individuals with the necessary backgrounds to sift through exabytes of data. For centuries, physicists and astronomers have coordinated resources to build massive technological infrastructure to further their field. With infinitely expanding data and content, researchers need infrastructural capabilities to research this new information frontier.

The Stanford Internet Observatory is a cross-disciplinary program of research, teaching, and policy engagement for the study of abuse in current information technologies, with a focus on social media. Under the program direction of computer security expert Alex Stamos, the Observatory was created to learn about the abuse of the internet in real-time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.

By providing researchers across Stanford with cutting-edge data analytics and machine learning resources we will unlock completely unforeseen fields of research. We envision a world where researchers do not limit themselves to the data that is easy to access but instead dive into the toughest and most important questions by leveraging the capabilities of the Stanford Internet Observatory.”

The work of the team over at the Observatory has been impressive – and we have been tuned in to their efforts since their launch in 2019.  If you would like an overview of the “research, teaching, and policy” and the thoughts of the SIO team as they reflect on their “research and refine our path forward as a research center, the following report details their “focus areas and goals for the coming year”:  The Stanford Internet Observatory Turns Two.

We now turn to the SIO’s latest offering, in partnership with Graphika:  the August 24th release of a joint investigation into “an interconnected web of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and five other social media platforms that used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia. The platforms’ datasets appear to cover a series of covert campaigns over a period of almost five years rather than one homogeneous operation”…which the SIO authors believe is “the most extensive case of covert pro-Western influence operations on social media to be reviewed and analyzed by open-source researchers to date.”

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Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira is research director at OODA. He is a foresight strategist, creative technologist, and an information communication technology (ICT) and digital media researcher with 20+ years of experience directing public/private partnerships and strategic innovation initiatives.