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Fake news creators are a lot like hackers

Fake news creators are a lot like computer hackers.

To understand the comparison, we need to look at hackers’ motives. The problem here is that hackers — like fake news creators — have many motives.

Plus, there are many types of hackers. In a post to the blog Infosec, a site devoted to information security, Penny Hoelscher wrote that hackers’ motives “vary widely, from the terrorist hacker wanting to save the planet to the script kiddie wanting to destroy their ex-spouse.”

If you’re not familiar with the term “script kiddies,” they’re simply hacker-wannabes, “usually low-skilled, but they can be a menace to individuals they target to harass or whose lives they try to infiltrate,” Hoelscher wrote.

The motives we give hackers and the categories in which they’re placed mirror many of those of fake news producers.

You’re probably most familiar with the term “Hats.” Names like black hats (bad), white hats (good), and gray hats (somewhere in the middle) have all found their way into our everyday lexicon. We also hear occasional pop culture references to blue (good) and red (bad) teams that work together to defeat criminals.

However, it’s the hacker categories that best resemble fake news creators that are a bit more complicated. Names like hacktivist, state-sponsored hacker, cyber-mercenary, cyberterrorist — when you read Hoelscher’s definitions, they sound a lot like the motives of a fake news creator.

For example, hacktivist — a portmanteau of the words “hacker” and “activist” — is an obvious comparison. These hackers are driven by political or religious causes. This is also true of fake news creators who may have more liberal or conservative leanings, willing to knowingly spread deceitful stories in order to boost their candidate or issues by tearing down another candidate or issue.

State-sponsored hackers are “subsidized or supported by a government agency, or even government agencies themselves,” Hoelscher added. These resemble the fake news creators hired by government-sponsored organizations. Of course, we’re most familiar with the Russian-sponsored fake news that infiltrated our social media channels during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

However, as state-sponsored fake news creators, Russia wasn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last. Just last week, Facebook announced shuttering 150 profiles linked to state-sponsored groups in China.

Some profiles supported Chinese claims over its interests in the South China Sea, a hotly disputed area for China and its neighbors (e.g., Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines).

Fake news is a worldwide conundrum.

Those who help create fake news for these state-sponsored organizations may resemble hacktivists (i.e., motivated by a political ideology), but there’s also a good chance that they’re more like cyber-mercenaries. They’re more like paid, third-party hackers.

If the money is right, there’s no news too fake for a cyber-mercenary-like fake news creator.

Fake news creators often share similar motives with cyberterrorists. According to Hoelscher, the cyberterrorist is interested in “causing mayhem and creating fear.” She also added that in keeping with the traditional definition of “terrorist,” it’s also most likely that this group wants to cause physical death and destruction.

They may not want to kill people, but fake news creators are interested in mayhem and fear. Ultimately, those who create and distribute fake news are just as complicated and equally as harmful to society as their hacker counterparts.

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