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How to Accurately Manipulate a Democratic Election?

 

Can fake news really manipulate public opinion and influence elections? 

A documentary program on Norwegian National Television took six months to experiment in a local middle school. And this removed the principal, and almost no one knew about it. In the face of fake social accounts, deliberately manipulated information streams, and concocted fake news, will students step into the trap carefully laid by the program group?

In early September, an experiment shook the whole of Norway.

 

In order to reproduce Russia's suspected interference in the US election through social media four years ago, a documentary program by Norwegian National Television (NRK) took six months to conduct a similar experiment in a local middle school.

 

Folkeopplysningen

The show that led the experiment is called Folkeopplysningen, which means "public enlightenment." The experiment was carried out in secret, and almost no one in the school knew about it except the principal.


The "Public Enlightenment" program  

The program team wanted to use social media to guide students to support the most unpopular party before and discredit other parties with high support rates.

 

The director selected the Norwegian Central Party (Senterpartiet) for a simple reason. This party has a very bad reputation in Norway. In the last election, the Central Party received the lowest vote rate among all political parties. 2% of the vote.

 

If a party with such a bad reputation can obtain a higher approval rate through experiments, then the truth revealed by the experiment is very simple and rude-fake news can indeed effectively manipulate public opinion.

 

How will the fake accounts of social networks, deliberately manipulated information streams, and artificially fabricated fake news affect public opinion in a closed social circle?

At the end of August, there was a "cat hunting movement" on the campus of Lillestrom High School. The cats on campus were gone. Cat hunting notices are plastered all over the school.

 

Soon after the incident, a video circulated in the social circles of the students. The blurry picture quality of the surveillance camera showed that a wild wolf sneaked into the campus at night and killed the cat.

 

In Norway in recent years, the wolf is an animal that has caused political differences. After disappearing for nearly half a century, environmental organizations have just helped them return to Norway. 

Urban populations and environmentalists hope that the wolves can live better, but local farmers are increasingly demanding to shoot the wolves.

 

There is still one week left before the mock election

All subsequent actions were designed around the interests of the Centraal Party, including the popularly discussed video of wolves killing cats-the request to shoot and kill all wolves throughout Norway is the center’s most fascinating in recent years. One of the notable claims.

 

Some students noticed that the news was a bit suspicious, while others began to waver and slowly accepted the narrative of "the wolf killed the cat". In an interview after the incident, 17-year-old Viktoria Løberg said that she even took the initiative after returning home Speaking to my dad, I saw a wolf in school.

The story of the wolf and the cat is just one of the ten fake news that the program group focused on before the election. Apart from fake news, the public opinion warfare system designed by the staff is actually more complicated than imagined.

They created a series of Facebook pages to cooperate with each other to launch a public opinion offensive. One of them is dedicated to publishing fake news, and two pages are used to publish real news that is beneficial to the target audience. At the same time, a fake organization has been developed for offline activities.

 

On Instagram, the information matrix is ​​centered on a virtual personality account named "Nora Emilie Alsaker". Her personality is a 16-year-old girl studying in this middle school. Interesting promotional materials from the Central Party appear on the page from time to time.

 

After six months of operation, their main position on Facebook has obtained nearly 130 subscriptions, and the offline activity it tried to initiate, "Climate Strike", received 250 people's "interest" marks on Facebook. Paid ads on Facebook received a total of 264 clicks. On Instagram, the virtual personality account followed about 50 real school students.

 

On September 3, the results of the new round of school elections were announced: the Central Party won 24 votes, accounting for 3.1% of the total, and its ranking among the 10 political parties jumped from 10th to 6th.

 

To fool the people or to educate the people?

On September 4, on the second day of the mock elections in all Norwegian schools, the program director and the school principal announced the existence of the experiment: the students participating in the mock election in the whole school had unknowingly received these false information, and the result of a "polluted" mock election was produced.

 

As soon as the news came out, public opinion in Norway was in an uproar. Supporters believed that this would help young people grow up to become citizens of the country. The opponents were outraged, thinking that such an experiment was playing with the democratic system and the trust of everyone.

 

From the perspective of the experimental designer, this is a social experiment that strictly controls the possible scope of influence.

The school election is essentially a mock election organized on campus before students enter the real democratic election process. Students are encouraged.

To this end, energy and time are devoted to understanding the party information and the nature of elections, but the election results themselves do not have any impact on society.

 

The NRK program team also emphasized that the information used in this experiment was closely observed and strictly controlled. Once the fake information overflows the small circle of the school’s students, they will immediately intervene and delete it.

 

As for the significance of the experiment-why design such an experiment?

Andreas Wahl, the head of the program group, explained to the participating students: "We want to test what opportunities the Internet and social media provide for those who might want to undermine democracy."

 

"I expect more people to be irritated"

Øivind Sørlie, the principal of the school, believes that a similar format is useful and necessary. I​it can help students deal with the received information more carefully, "I expect more people to be irritated." 

He was the only person in the school who knew the experiment existed in advance and agreed to cooperate with the program team to conduct the experiment.

 

How to accurately manipulate a democratic election by fake news

Some of the students who participated in the experiment also held similar views to the principal. 

One student said:

 "I can say on behalf of my classmates that we feel that we have gained some training instead of being fooled... It really proves the spread of false news How easy it is to influence choices."

 

But beyond this, some others were indeed irritated by this experiment

The political parties and youth movements first expressed strong objections to the experiment. They pointed out that this unthought-out experiment may have had an unknowable impact on local elections-the regional elections were arranged only one week after the school elections, and the system even It is also allowed to vote three weeks in advance. 

This is the first real election in the life of more than 300 students over 18 years old.


What is the credibility of the Norwegian national television station?

Prime Minister Erna Solberg also said on the same day that such an experiment would only weaken the credibility of the Norwegian national television station.

 As a national television station, their funding comes from taxpayers, and to design such an experiment and create related scenes Part of the work of Norwegian National Television?"

And all these questions ultimately boil down to a more essential question: Has this experiment really gained some recognition that is important enough for the public interest that has not been generally accepted before?

 

Is there an antidote to information warfare?

At least judging from the election data itself, the results of this experiment are not as simple and clear as most people guessed: 

Although the votes of the central party that has become the protagonist of the push have increased, the main opponent of the central party-the Green Party is. The real winner in this school election. Its approval rate rose from 9% two years ago to 19.5%, and its ranking rose from 5th to 2nd.

 

At the same time, although the Green Party has shown an upward trend in the results of the school elections across Norway, both the increase (4%) and the vote rate (10.8%) are far lower than the voting results of Lillestrom High School. .

 

The political programs of the Green Party and the Central Party almost diverge, and they are also the main targets of this experiment. Logically speaking, they are the most negatively affected parties.

 

Is it because the informal propaganda of conservatism and anti-environmentalism has actually expanded the advantage of the Green Party? 

Or is there a problem with NRK's ​​experimental design in a certain ring? Or is it that the artificial information control scenario is not as effective as imagined? 

So far, public information is still insufficient to explain these problems, and some of the mysteries may be revealed when the program is broadcast in November.

 

Another possibility of the fake news problem

But for many people who are concerned about the progress of the incident, the election experiment at Lillestrom Middle School may be leading to another possibility of the "fake news" problem.

 

In the past five years, the specter of “fake news” has lingered all over the world. The specific information flow structure represented by social networks can influence individual cognition and choices, which has become a common sense in contemporary life.

This September, the cover article of the American "Nature" magazine once again proved that the existence of social networks alone may cause a deviation of up to 20% in voting results, and that false information is shown in tearing society, dividing opinion groups, and even affecting election results. 

Astonishing ability, with the Russian-style "information war" shocking the world time and time again.

 

At the same time, what has become a hot topic of discussion is how to counter the contemporary "information war" composed of social networks and false information:

The United States has chosen to increase its efforts to regulate social media and information flow, and the Czech Republic is trying to incorporate information discrimination training into primary and secondary schools In the classroom, in Eastern European countries from Ukraine to Estonia, "rumoring" has become the main form of counterattack, but so far, there are still few successful cases in this regard.

 

In Norway, the principal of Lillestrom Middle School still has very high expectations for the results of the experiment with a complete understanding of what happened:

 "Actually, I believe that the students can resist it. The election results are not It will be greatly affected by this." 

He said in a self-report article explaining the experimental arrangement, "As a principal, I must assume that the school’s democratic education has its effect."

 

The principal said so with confidence. In his view, the election experiment is a test of the achievements of democratic education in schools in the past few years.

 

Since 2016, Lillestrom Middle School has been promoting an educational experimental project called Lille Stortinget 

This is a mock parliamentary activity. Each school year, the school will spend three days for high school and high school students to play political role. Among them, political students form the parliament and government, and communication students form consultants, reporters and media editorial departments. 

Outside of the parliamentary "session", relevant multi-disciplinary teaching plans run throughout the school year.

We don't know whether such political experience has played a role in resisting fake news, but the principal is confident in the democratic education of the school.


"If the students resist the huge influence, then we will see a boring TV show." He said, "But if they are not successful, it means that the school needs to do something else."



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