PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A former senior cyber leader told a public forum foreign interference in democratic processes continues to run rampant on most social media platforms and “reduce trust in our democratic processes.”

As Cybersecurity Awareness Month comes to close, Oregon State University hosted an informative lecture to highlight the impact of cyber trends and social media on National Security.

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds delivered the virtual talk Thursday October, 28, pulling from her experience in national security to provide insight on the influence of social media on the flow of information.

“Today cyber security is National Security,” Reynolds said. “Think about what the internet now enables: global connection, speed of understanding, in most democratic countries it provides unfiltered content, economic exchange, and now ‘tailored content.’”

While algorithms meant to improve shopping preferences can be helpful, Reynolds warns that those same algorithms are used to generate profiles, which record users likes, dislikes, and personal information. 

According to Reynolds, the algorithms are designed to feed users world views and content that will keep them engaged, even if the content is no longer based in truth.

“The longer I browse, like, react, and share — the more tailored my content becomes until I’m in my own echo chamber,” Reynolds explained. “My responses feed the algorithm, and the machine learns to filter my content to induce a ‘meaningful social interaction,’ even if that reaction is rage.”

Though algorithms which encourage rageful responses over ‘likes’ and positivity are disconcerting, Reynolds suggests the sources of divisive misinformation pose an even greater threat to National Security. 

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds (Courtesy: Oregon State University)

An estimated 150 million people were exposed to Russian-based misinformation during the 2016 US Presidential Election. And according to Reynolds, foreign interference in democratic processes continues to run rampant on most social media platforms. 

“The method is to create and fuel division over all sorts of issues: whether it’s political, cultural, racial or economic, “ said Reynolds. “The goal is to create internal turbulence and reduce attention on external issues. To reduce trust in our democratic processes. And folks, it’s working.”

The former lieutenant general cited a recent September MIT report which showed Russian troll farms ran 10 of the top 15 African American Facebook pages, and 19 of the top 20 Christian pages.

“New research shows an extensive Chinese influence operation which seeks to spark physical protests inside the US over the COVID pandemic,” Reynolds explained. “The operation includes hundreds of inauthentic accounts, working in seven languages across 30 social media platforms.”

To combat these threats, Reynolds calls on the public to educate themselves to detect fake ‘bot’ accounts, vet and verify content sources, choose social media sites that enable private browsing, and call out fake news shared by networks. 

“You must be an educated consumer of what you see and share online. Question what you read, find truth, talk to people who disagree with you, and question drama,” said Reynolds. “And know that there are nation states who delight in the discord they sow one click at a time.”