The Proliferation of Disinformation

Article 4 min
Personally and professionally we are experiencing an onslaught of false and misleading information. Disinformation seems to spread more quickly than factual information.

Disinformation is deliberately spreading information that is known to be false and is one of the three Information Disorder types (along with misinformation and malinformation).

Social media algorithms reward engagement, which keeps users on the platform. Users are more likely to see content they will interact with and share, regardless of its truthfulness. Disinformation is engaging and appeals to users' emotions. This leads to a cycle of increased interaction and sharing that spreads disinformation more readily and quickly.

Disinformation may also spread more rapidly because it is often new. People are more likely to share new or previously unknown information to appear as "being in the know."

Shifting the narrative is easier when group division exists. Take this 2020 story from The Daily Beast for example. 

"Bill Crews is a PR official at the National Institutes of Health. But he also has another job: an anonymous RedState editor who rails against the agency for which he works. The managing editor of the prominent conservative website RedState has spent months trashing U.S. officials tasked with combating COVID-19, dubbing White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci a “mask nazi,” and intimating that government officials responsible for the pandemic response should be executed."

Disinformation leverages an emotional response that encourages viewers to share and align themselves with a narrative that resonates with their beliefs and people on "my side" versus "their side." In the above-referenced story, those whose beliefs aligned with conservative messaging and anti-masking would have been likely to pick up the RedState stories and share them. Emotionally-charged disinformation easily spreads in this divided environment and often encourages division.

Who is creating and spreading disinformation?

It could be anyone. Disinformation may come from a state-run international adversary or an individual living in the local community or anywhere in between. Your unit may be dealing with disinformation created by someone with an agenda or it may just be someone bored and seeking attention or amusement.

Once created, disinformation spreads quickly through multiple channels. The goal of a troll, bot or sock puppet is to get trusted sources to pick up the disinformation and repeat it. Learn more about these and other disseminators of disinformation below.

Click a target to reveal more in-depth information.


A diagram showing the hierarchy of disseminators. The orderer of disinformation is at the top. Creators are next. Bots, trolls, and sock puppets follow on the same level. People are at the bottom.


Organizations or Countries

The orderers of disinformation are those that have something to gain from sowing discord and creating doubt and chaos. They typically do not create the false narrative themselves to maintain deniability.


Organs & Proxies

The creators of disinformation are those hired by the orderers of disinformation to actually produce the narrative that will sow discord. They're given the instructions, and they create believable news articles on websites that look like established news organizations. While they look real and sound believable, the articles push a false narrative with disinformation.


Artificial Intelligence & Machines

Programmable bots feed a certain line/narrative. They saturate the information environment and make it so truthful information cannot get out because the information environment is so saturated with false information.



Trolls are people sowing discord. You'll see them in comments. They jump into content, post a comment of negativity and leave. Their arguments are often straw man, whataboutism and Kremlin narrative.

Sock Puppets

Fake Personas

Sock puppets pretend to be entirely different people and construct a false narrative around their allegedly aligned views. Sock puppets sow discord that leads to tangible action and makes people question what they believe. Sock puppets usually have empty profiles that do little more than stoke flames.


Useful Amplifiers

These are the people sharing and spreading the disinformation that supports their emotional state and beliefs. They mistakenly believe the disinformation passed by the bots, trolls and sock puppets to be true, and they pass it along as misinformation. At this point, the disinformation has successfully taken over the information environment.

What does it look like?

While it is not all Russian in origin, the Kremlin does have a highly-organized disinformation strategy in place. When the United States DoD was traditionally using social media platforms as outlets to disseminate information, the Kremlin was leveraging the platforms as arms of influence and manipulation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter removed millions of Russian bots that were pushing a false narrative that COVID was just the flu to distract and divide the citizens of the U.S. and Western Europe. The Russian bots flooded the information environment with this false narrative. Then real individuals repeated the message, which added their personal trust capital to their network of influence. More individuals repeated it, and soon the false narrative took on a life of its own and spread out well beyond what Russia could do alone.

Throughout social media, there are billions of bots, trolls and sock puppets waging grey zone warfare. While it may not directly target your unit, it does have a corrosive impact on your ability to successfully craft and amplify a narrative.

Social media gives people the ability to choose exactly what content they consume, engage with and amplify. While Russia is publishing false stories at an alarming rate, the real danger comes from the bots, trolls, sock puppets and people who are spreading disinformation from multiple origins and undermining factual narratives through inflammatory conversations. When people begin believing and distributing disinformation, the information environment quickly becomes muddied.


Markay, L. (2020, September 21). A Notorious COVID Troll Actually Works for Dr. Fauci’s Agency. The Daily Beast.

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