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Attention war - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.


On Sunday, I came across an article in the Financial Times discussing the impact of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the war in Ukraine. It stated: "Ukrainians are now wondering if the world has the attention span and courage to focus on two major wars." This isn't an unfair assumption — in the last two weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with content focused on Israel and Palestine. Such is the oversaturation of the information environment that I haven't seen much discourse on Ukraine or any other conflict-ridden countries (take Sudan, for example, on which we have written about in previous digests). Many argue that this shift in focus towards Israel and Palestine is a case of selective empathy; however, like the FT article, I'm more inclined to believe that it instead stems from a growing global attention deficit — a phenomenon that brings its own set of digital vulnerabilities to the table.

Research has found that an information overload (both in production and consumption, as seen with Israel and Palestine) leads to a greater collective attention deficit. This, in turn, makes people uniquely vulnerable to disinformation online. It's the classic 'less is more' theory; the more choice we have, the less patient we are and the less patient we are, the more we give in to bite-sized, neatly packaged, and often unverified content. In short, we don’t spend our time doing the required due diligence.

At the moment, social media is oversaturated with content relating to Israel and Palestine, most of which is false or misleading. For example, users on X (formerly Twitter) were made to believe that a video game simulation was footage of a Hamas attack; that fireworks in Algeria were Israeli air strikes; and that a 2012 attack on a local police station in Bahrain was an ongoing attack against the Israeli embassy — and there are countless other examples. The current information overload fuels impatience; it draws users to the ‘prettiest’ infographics or most sensationalist videos that reinforce their confirmation biases, while reliable content gets buried under the noise. This is then exacerbated by existing echo chambers on social media platforms, which push partisan opinions and favour users that have bought legitimacy, regardless of the veracity of the information they disseminate.

It is my (perhaps cynical) belief that threat actors are aware of the implications (and opportunities) of flooding the information environment. They exploit users’ diminishing attention spans to push disinformation, hate speech and outright incitement to violence into the mainstream — a tactic that works to sow discord 9 times out of 10. It is therefore increasingly important for us to not only do our due diligence and verify shared content, but also be cognisant of the fact that our attention is unknowingly declining; making us more vulnerable to digital threats.

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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