Contract disinformation, a shadow industry, is quietly on the rise

But they seem to be cheap. In countries that require transparency in campaign finance, companies report billing tens of thousands of dollars for campaigns that also include traditional consulting services.

The denial layer frees governments to sow disinformation more aggressively, at home and abroad, than would otherwise be worth the risk. Some contractors, when caught, claim that they acted without their clients’ knowledge or only to win future business.

The platforms have stepped up their efforts to root out coordinated disinformation. Analysts especially credit Facebook, which publishes detailed reports on the campaigns it interrupts.

Still, some argue that social media companies also play a role in worsening the threat. Algorithms and design elements that increase engagement, research findings, often privilege divisive and conspiratorial content.

The political norms have also changed. A generation of populist leaders, like Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines, has grown up in part through the manipulation of social media. Once in office, many institutionalize these methods as foreign relations and governance tools.

In India, dozens of government-run Twitter accounts have shared posts from India Vs Disinformation, a website, and a set of social networks purporting to verify news stories about India.

India Vs Disinformation is actually the product of a Canadian communications company called Press Monitor.

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