After the Webinar: Countering Disinformation Campaigns. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Joel Finelstein, John O’Hare, Bob Jensen, Paul Goldenberg, and Mark Pfeifle answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Countering Disinformation Campaigns for Law Enforcement Command Staff, Practitioners and Public Information Officers.  Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: What advice do you have for convincing upper management that being on social media gives you the opportunity to protect the organization? My director has fears about being too out there and has asked us to pull out a pullback on all fronts. 

John O’Hare: I had the same problems. So, I fully understand that I think, first and foremost, you need to develop a social media policy, not an outgoing. This is the department, social media page. But if you’re going to use it for investigations, look around. You can actually find some online. And I’m sure some of the gentlemen on this panel here, have access to those. PERF has them. But you really want to develop a strong and robust policy before you engage in that. Because you need to protect yourself and your state administrations. As a former administrator, we need to protect our agency too from outside attacks. So the best advice I ever had was from a former NYPD Lieutenant in the Intel division, and that’s the first thing he told me. Start with the policy, and then you can go behind that.

Mark Pfeifle: Real quick, as well, the policy, it’s personnel, and it’s the budget – manage and control. And we’ve seen in some law enforcement offices, the public information officer will have control of the social media challenges, which I think is right. But there’ll be a turnover and the PIO, and they won’t keep that continuity. So, this has to be part of your practices, like any other organization or any other part of your organization would have, is an act of social media strategy, and policy, and then an engagement strategy. And especially in a time of enormous challenges for your community in your office. You’re going to want a robust social media strategy, and a robust engagement, and with professionals who know how to utilize it, both to monitor and look at information, as well as getting proactive information that’s actionable out to your community. So, if you need help with that in your agencies and departments, that’s something that NSA could also help with. We have a pretty robust and smart social media expert, Chelsea Rider, and she is more than willing to help guide, give advice, and critiques for your operations to help you successfully engage. So, thanks very much for that question.

Bob Jensen: I’ll add one more thing. If you’re not on social media, you’re not going to be able to defend your agency’s reputation, you won’t have a voice where people are commenting and reading. It’d be like you’re mute. So, you have to be on there, but by having a clear policy, having a strategy on how you’ll put information out and respond, it will help convince your boss that you know what you’re doing, look, here’s what we’re going to do with this. That’s the best way to go.

Paul Goldenberg: I mean, take a look, at Charlottesville, at the Capitol. The after-action reports speak for, themselves. There were people but weren’t even analysts that we’re monitoring the social media that had more of a beat on what was happening. And I’m talking more about Charlottesville. And I’m not criticizing by any means. We’re talking about the fact that because some departments are still averse to these activities. I mean, these folks are putting it out there. And then in the aftermath of some really bad events, the first question is going to be, “Did you know what was going on in your own community?” So, Bob, you couldn’t have said it any better than that, that’s exactly what would be taking a test.

Mark Pfeifle: So, really quick, a final thing is for your agencies, departments offices do a social media inventory. Do you have a Twitter account? Does your law enforcement, who in your law enforcement agencies has an active Twitter account that speaks on behalf of your department? As well as Instagram? Kind of, all of them. And then make sure that you have all of your passwords in one place because they’re the last two big challenges that National Sheriff Association went out to assist with. Both of those offices had a social media page for Twitter and for other accounts. They had no idea how to access them, that those passwords were lost to former PIOs that had moved on to different activities. And we had to go through the whole process with Twitter, which is not an uncomplicated endeavor, and go to them and prove that, yes, we are that agency. Yes, this is the sheriff for the police chief. And it was a really difficult thing in the middle of a horrific incident, that now you’re also trying to communicate to somebody in Palo Alto, to use your Twitter account. So please do that where you can immediately as a next step.


Audience Question:  How do you stay up to date knowing which websites to monitor? And do you create false accounts? How do you access that information? 

Joel Finkelstein: Yeah. So, you’re asking about our methodology. So, we have a combination of mixed methods. So, we have analysts who are trained to see this stuff. And then when they see a trend, and this is a really critical part of the future of the methodology and every one of you are outpost in this new scene. So, you need to learn how to do this. It’s not enough to have methods. You have to have eyes trained to see this stuff. It’s really important in these outposts now because that’s where the attacks are coming from, and they all have this in common. No one heard of them six months ago. Right? So, we need a new kind of literacy amongst police departments everywhere in this field. We need people who have eyes on the social cyber domain to become familiar with the movements and the people to become familiar with the Chan cultures and the code works. Now, the benefit of that is that when you, when you do that, when you get the literacy, it gives you an edge on where these things are kind of happening. But where the tools become really important is when you catch a —– when you see that code word, when you find that user, that’s what the eyes can show us, then you plug it into the methods and they can show you how far is the contagion spreading? Where is it prevalent? Where are the red zones? Okay, now, you can set eyes on those places and we can figure out where, how our towns, how the people we’re supposed to protect are associated with these really bad ideas. How the police themselves are caught in the mix of that, right. So, my concern is that, right now, the major threats that are going to be facing our country are going to be coming from this domain. And police departments across the country are outposts, that are there that need to protect our democracy from threats they’re not well versed in, and from a direction that no one knows how to deal with, this is a national problem. And so, and now, it’s a local problem for everybody. So, I think learning how to use the methods that we showed you here, combined with a deep training on our eyes so that we’re all, we’re monitoring the domain the same way we monitor the streets, we’re monitoring the social cyber domain.

John O’Hare: Yeah, like to echo what I said before. If you’re starting from scratch, start with Twitter, go on and look. Follow some individuals who were the pioneers in this field and you’re going to see the rabbit hole. And so, what they tend to do, is share each other’s information, when they come across something. There are literally daily updates. You can educate yourself, which is by following specific Twitter feeds. OSINTcurious was when I started with, but there are a million and they literally reference each other. Go on those YouTube channels, then just type in OSINT methods, there are graphics out there that will tell you of emerging platforms. —-, Gab, a lot of people don’t know about these. Reddit, 4chan, 8kun, spend time learning these platforms. But, also, watch the pioneers because, like I said, they will continue the messaging too.



Audience Question: How are federal organizations responding to the information, and how is it being addressed? Are we looking at counterprogramming? How is that being handled? 

Bob Jensen: I can tell you right now, both the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and DHS State Fusion Centers, are looking at this type of social media activity by extremists. DHS and CISA, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency are also looking at a lot of this type of disinformation. In fact, they’ve got some great toolsets on their website about how to fight disinformation. So, the federal government acknowledges that this is a major problem. HHS is looking at disinformation about COVID. So, I think most federal agencies are having to deal with this in some form or another.

Paul Goldenberg: But here’s the challenge, and I agree completely with Bob. They’re out there doing the best they can. But there’s, what? Between 18,500, 19,000 police agencies, there’s 3,300 county governments. And we can’t even count how many municipalities there are out there. So, with that said, the challenge is, I think you’ve heard Joel say. Each one is an outpost. This is the pulse, not only the community, but some of these folks, and these numbers are growing immensely, they’re growing every day. They are, it’s like in my early days and I know that John and I, both were gang cops at one time. And we used to read the graffiti. There were people that said, “Well, why are you even paying attention while you’re taking pictures of this graffiti?”. And we actually spent a lot of time on that graffiti because the graffiti was the signs and symbols of the street. And we pretty much knew who was coming and who was going. Well, take that on steroids now. If we’re well beyond that, but it’s incumbent upon police executives, some of which sometimes don’t completely understand the depth and breadth and the criticality of having their officers or one officer. Because most departments aren’t NYPD. They’re not, they’re not LAPD. They’re small. But training your officers or having one of your officers understand exactly how to read these tea leaves, is going to be more critical in the days to come than ever. And to Mark’s point, particularly with the NSA. Having a social media infrastructure within your department is going to be imperative just for rumor control. Rumors! Police officers sometimes live or die by rumors. And these rumors now, remember the rumors two decades ago it was bad. Well, now, that accelerates in five minutes or 10 minutes and we need to be able to have a trusted public space that people can go to. And maybe that doesn’t mean necessarily just the police agency itself. But if the police agency is working in tandem with the clergy, or working with other trusted voices within the community, well, maybe you can counter that narrative. You know you got to get out of the box on this one. There are some really creative people that are looking to do some real damage to us, using technology.

Bob Jensen: So, you know, you’re mentioning the information sharing, and then more of a whole community approach of getting out there with your stakeholders and having them work together with you. That absolutely makes sense.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Countering Disinformation Campaigns for Law Enforcement Command Staff, Practitioners and Public Information Officers.  



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