Newswise — A University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor advised members of NATO about the danger of false information distributed online through botnets, a network of computer programs that act autonomously on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy chair and professor of information science, spoke to a joint meeting between the NATO information operations (INFO-OPS) and psychological operations (PSYOPS) working group April 26 in San Antonio, Texas.

His keynote speech, “Botnets, Evolution, and their Role in Propaganda Dissemination,” identified how “deviant” groups use botnets to disseminate misinformation and propaganda through social media during critical events like the 2014 Crimean Water Crisis, NATO’s 2015 Operation Dragoon Ride Exercise, and NATO’s 2015 Trident Juncture Exercise.

Data gathered from blogs and Twitter posts during the events indicate botnet use is becoming more sophisticated and difficult to detect even with state-of-the-art techniques.

“My talk emphasized the critical need to understand the modern information environment and the hybrid information warfare that is being conducted,” Agarwal said. “Our message is that we need to expand our security focus from traditional definitions, such as hacking, malware, spam, etc., to include insidious ways of manipulating civic discourse and influencing people.”

Many conference attendees, including national delegates of NATO member countries, approached Agarwal after his address to learn how their public affairs, information operations, and psychological operations officers could be trained in the social media analysis techniques used in Agarwal’s UA Little Rock Center of Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), Agarwal said.

Defense Strategic Communications, NATO’s flagship journal, published his research in March 2017. Samer Al-khateeb, Major Rick Galeano, and Dr. Rebecca Goolsby co-authored the article with Agarwal.