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How the Agriculture Industry is Impacted by Disinformation
We saw how Russian bots meddled in the 2016 Presidential election, but this by no means is the extent of their capabilities. Through social media, and the algorithms in place today, these Russian bots have the ability to target and push forward a false narrative that aligns with the beliefs and messages they work to amplify. In many cases, broadly, this includes the goal of undermining western culture and society, wherever they can. Most recently, in agriculture.
Multiple Russian social media accounts have created fears surrounding western food and water supplies, putting US agriculture at the center of this controversy. But, what makes this attack different from those against polarizing brands and the election manipulation that we have observed in the past? Instead of focusing its attack on one organization, this form of disinformation attack targets the integrity of an entire industry, thus increasing its influence and impact.
Undermining an industry
While the agriculture industry might not be an obvious target for disinformation campaigns, that doesn’t make it immune from threats. Instead, the method of the threat evolves to jeopardize the industry rather than focusing on just an individual company or person.
For example, according to the report in The Times, dozens of the accounts stoked unease over the safety of glyphosate, a common weedkiller. One tweet read: “Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctor reveals link between #glyphosate, GMOs and the autism epidemic.” One message suggested that fluoride in water caused cancer.
It’s evident that what gave this disinformation campaign a platform was that it leveraged a large-scale controversy that could undermine an entire industry instead of just one company.
Amplifying an existing controversy: GMOs
What largely allowed this troll farm to gain momentum is that it leveraged an existing controversy. GMOs have become a controversial topic surrounding agriculture and farming in recent years with activists and hobbyists working to justify the connection between GMOs and autism and other developmental issues. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this.
The movement has gained momentum, and as a result many cutting-edge agricultural companies have become prime targets for manipulative social media attacks. The Russian bot accounts recently detected aren’t the first time that this specific GMO narrative has been amplified. Monsanto, an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation was also recently included under umbrella of this same GMO narrative.
New Knowledge detected a disinformation campaign targeting the company. This specific threat was a cross platform campaign existing in the form of manipulated tweets and social posts. While this attack was directly targeted on Monsanto, it was used as part of a larger strategy to sow division in American society and further amplify the controversy surrounding GMOs.
Disinformation campaigns and coordinated groups leveraging existing controversies as a springboard to push forward their narrative allows them to increase the breadth of attack. Since this issue is relevant to multiple companies and organizations vs being unique to just one, the impact is larger scale.
With agriculture companies this type of broad attack can be damaging to its reputation, even though they are not directly at the center of it. Disinformation campaigns can falsely influence public opinion and sentiment surrounding this narrative and spread it faster.
The impact is more significant than lost sales and stock prices. Instead, industry level disinformation attacks like these have the ability to undermine a nation’s trust in its health services, scientific experts and research institutions as a way to destabilize a society.