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Should it be coming home? - 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.

Team

On Sunday, England will take on Spain in the final of the 2024 European Championship in Berlin; the culmination of a month-long party of football. However, a common criticism of this year’s tournament, espoused by both pundits and fans alike, is that the football being played on the pitch—particularly from the traditionally ‘big’ teams—has been largely uninspiring and boring. France, with a plethora of world-class talent and the best attacker in the world in Kylian Mbappé, was arguably the most defensive team in the tournament, while England, with some of the Premier League’s best young players, was consistently outplayed by much lower-ranked teams (granted they played well last night). The same can be said for Portugal, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

In a pre-match interview last week, Marcelo Bielsa, the current head coach of Uruguay and well-known ‘philosopher of football’, gave his opinion on the matter, stating that despite record viewing figures, “football is becoming less attractive”. Bielsa went on to blame this on the ongoing commercialisation of the game which prioritises profit over the spectacle, arguing that “no matter how many people watch football, if you don’t ensure that what people watch is something pleasant, it will only benefit business, because business only cares about how many people watch it”.

In a Digital Threat Digest published a couple of months ago, my colleague discussed the process of ‘ensh*ttification’, describing it as a “process in which online services become steadily worse from a user perspective until they die”. In tech, as with football, this degradation of the user experience can be blamed on a homogenisation of features and services created by the constant pursuit for a format that generates the most money.

This also represents a new form of cultural hegemony, whereby information and ideas are controlled and diffused by an oligopoly of tech platforms, placing us in algorithmically defined echo chambers. More nefariously, online threat actors are aware of these new information pathways and understand how to exploit these algorithms to manipulate public opinion, spread disinformation, and forge societal discord. They target users and information environments at scale, eroding trust and generating widespread scepticism in systems and institutions.

However, eventually this deterioration in the quality of information will lead to disengagement and a lack of interest in the very platforms which were created as a means of popular expression. Take X and Facebook as examples. While both platforms announced record global user numbers for 2023, since Elon Musk’s 2022 takeover, my X feed has been dominated by spam and clickbait, while pretty much no one I know still actively uses Facebook since feeds became filled with adverts and sensationalist media articles.

Sunday’s Euros final will, I’m sure, see record viewing figures. Similarly, sponsorship and TV rights deals will very likely continue growing in the 2024/25 season. But, without the creativity, innovation, and passion which made us all fall in love with the game in the first place, who knows where football will be in a few years’ time. As noted by Bielsa, “what made this game the best in the world is no longer prioritised… and in a few years, the players who deserve to be watched will become fewer, and as the game produced becomes less enjoyable, this current artificial increase in spectators will come to an end”.

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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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