Narrative Attacks: A Top Concern for Companies and Communication Leaders

Revealing the concealed dangers of narrative attacks fueled by misinformation and disinformation that cause reputational and financial harm.

Dan Lowden and John Wissinger on December 14, 2023

In the rapidly evolving world of social media, news, and the dark web, a new threat has emerged that can completely blindside a company, gaining attention and concern among communication leaders and executive teams. Known as “Narrative Attacks,” fueled by misinformation and disinformation, every customer discussion and Comms event we have attended over the past year has concluded that this new threat is now a top concern by executive teams and especially the communication leader who gets deeply involved in a time of crisis. A narrative attack is just that. A crisis that can cause irreparable harm to the brand’s reputation and financial position. 

The Emergence of Narrative Attacks

Narrative Attacks represent a sophisticated blend of misinformation and disinformation tactics designed to manipulate perceptions about individuals, organizations, or events. These attacks are perilous because they can quickly scale and spread across the internet, causing significant financial loss, operational disruption, and reputational damage to companies. Unfortunately, many organizations are ill-equipped to deal with these attacks, as traditional social media listening tools do not provide adequate visibility or protection against them. 

In a recent customer meeting with a large multinational organization, their communications leader told us, “We felt helpless about this topic (Narrative attacks) before we engaged with you.” 

The Scope of the Problem

The issue of Narrative Attacks has rapidly ascended the list of priorities for executive teams, particularly those in communications. These attacks are not limited to any specific sector; they impact all industries, including financial institutions, consumer brands, healthcare, and critical infrastructure. It is estimated that these attacks cause billions of dollars in damage to market value every year, and brands that have been impacted may never recover. 

How big is the problem?

  • $78B lost each year to private firms due to disinformation
  • 88% of investors consider disinformation attacks on corporations a serious issue
  • 53% of US respondents: “CEOs & business leaders should do whatever they can to stop the spread of misinformation.”
  • 25% of respondents thought business leaders were currently doing enough

From our discussion with hundreds of executives, there is an intense desire for an improved ability to understand the harmful narratives across the internet that involve their organization. They want this data to develop counter-narratives to best position the organization in times of crisis to minimize the impact. Knowing the narratives, communication leaders can share insights on narrative attacks with their leadership team to protect the organization best.  

“Narrative Attacks are a blind spot to our organization, and current tools do not give us visibility into them or protection against them.” 

– Quote, Executive of a Fortune 500 Retail Brand

Fusion Center – Security And Communication Officers Coming Together To Be Better Prepared For Crisis Moments

A large financial institution we work with shared a new initiative to foster cross-organization collaboration around narrative risks to the company. They shared with us,

“We are creating a Fusion Center to bring together disparate teams within the organization so that we can be better prepared during moments of crisis.” 

Several case studies highlight the effectiveness of Blackbird.AI’s platform in different scenarios:

Crisis Narratives: When a crisis affects an organization, immediate knowledge of the evolving narratives is critical. The platform helps identify these narratives, which could relate to customers, partners, employees, executives, or product-related issues, enabling organizations to respond proactively.

Examples Of Harmful Crisis Narratives include customer incidents, partner crises, employee accidents, executive emergencies, product defects, third-party company targeting, strikes, severe weather, terrorism, and geopolitical risk.

Brand Reputation Risk Narratives: Understanding how an organization or brand is perceived online is vital for managing reputation risks. Blackbird.AI’s platform provides insights into potential adverse effects on customer reputation and trust.

Examples Of Harmful Brand Reputation Narratives include false or misleading information about the organization, products, or executives that could lead to the brand being canceled, understanding how products are being viewed (positively and negatively), threats of organized protests, boycotts, or strikes, calls for class action lawsuits, backlash, revenge posting, decline in satisfaction with products or services, understanding who the “true influencers” are about your product/brand (both optimistic and hostile) and their affiliations, competitive actions and vulnerabilities, sector instances.

Executive Targeting Narratives: Executives, board members, and critical employees can become targets of narrative attacks based on fake or real-world incidents. Taking a stance on global issues, strategic initiatives, announcements, and harmful incidents can make executives and the organization vulnerable to financial and reputational harm. 

Examples of harmful Executive Targeting narratives include threats to harm executives, board members, and strategic investors being made online, physical threats when visiting a location, oversharing personal information, extortion, exposure of harmful incidents, alignment with geo-political or unique perspectives and issues, and fake communications about the organization. 

Cyber Attack Narratives: The platform also effectively identifies narratives around security incidents, attacks, and breaches. This is crucial in an era where such events are frequent and have high stakes, as narratives can significantly increase a breach’s severity and financial impact. Knowing the narrative is also critically important as part of the company’s disclosure of the breach to it’s customers as well as the SEC based on new guidelines to disclose the breach within days of the event. 

Examples Of Cyber Attack Narratives include a breach of customer and employee data, stolen IP, a fake breach that was reported to the news but did not happen, a cyber attack on a customer or a competitor, the breach of a supplier or a partner, the impact on critical infrastructure, geopolitical risk, and nation-state targeting.

Geopolitical Risk Narratives: Understanding geopolitical narratives is essential for ensuring business continuity in a globalized world. The platform helps identify narratives that might impact employees, customers, infrastructure, and vendors.

Examples of Harmful Geopolitical Narratives include the impact of wars (Ukraine/Russian War), terrorist acts, political tensions, and embargoes, a response based on the organization’s stance on a specific issue, have implications on critical infrastructure, employees, customers, vendors, nation-state targeting, strikes, boycotts, protests, lawsuits, or misrepresentations of the organization and competitors. 

Stock Manipulation Narratives: Stock manipulation is increasingly driven by social media manipulation of public perception, including sophisticated tradecraft involving burner account networks and bots. Manipulation tactics (synthetic amplification, false representation) create cohesive pressure on stock prices (Meme stocks) and deals via channels like r/wallstreetbets on Reddit.

Examples of harmful Stock Manipulation narratives include Intentional market manipulation to drive stock and currency prices, foreign state actors attempting to disrupt/destabilize companies and financial markets, Meme stocks to pump & dump stocks, adversarial actors spreading narratives to break down a company, creating risk and volatility, and drive hedging and short seller attacks contrived to generate controversy and perception manipulation. 

Financial Market Risk Narratives: Financial institutions must be aware of harmful narratives that might emerge during a financial crisis. Blackbird.AI provides insights into these narratives, enabling institutions to create effective counter-narratives.

Examples of Harmful Financial Market Narratives include bank failures, inflation, the Great Recession mortgage crisis, oil crisis, terrorist attacks, September 11th, the .com bust, war, pandemics, currency fluctuations and manipulation, elections, severe weather, new regulations, business segment disruptions, and competitive crisis.

Insider Threat Narratives: Insider threats are one of the most feared events for any company. Someone inside can cause significant financial, operational, and reputational harm by knowingly or unknowingly sharing trade secrets, IP, customer, or employee data. These threats to an organization’s intellectual capital, know-how, trade secrets, or patented methods are at risk from insider threats that could be shared and observable through conversational data online. It is critical to know what harmful narratives are being discussed across the internet and the impact they could have on company employees who are at risk. 

Examples Of Harmful Insider Threat Narratives include the sharing of confidential information; the sale of customer, employee, and intellectual property; the potential influence by foreign maligned organizations; the impact of cyber criminals; the sharing of vulnerabilities and exploits in open-source software packages and in software applications that are embedded in an organization’s systems; the sharing of harmful views about a company its executives.

Supply Chain And Critical Manufacturing Risk Narratives: When organizations have significant supply chain and manufacturing risks, knowing what harmful narratives may be circulating is critically essential. Is your organization or the business sector overall being impacted by shortages, claims of harm, caught in escalating regional tensions, threatened with the cancelation of supply, inflationary pressure, and facing sole source risk challenges? These situations create public narratives that can spin up quickly and impact your organization further.

Examples of harmful Supply Chain And Critical Manufacturing narratives include product shortages or stoppages or rumors about them, emerging adversarial stances, boycotts, labor unions, activism, terrorism, parts and ingredient shortages, price increases, employee targeting, geo-political risk, civil unrest, safety incidents, and competitive moves.

Due Diligence / M&A / Corporate Intelligence Narratives: When organizations have a strategy to grow through mergers and acquisitions, understanding the narratives around the potential investments during the due diligence stage is critical. Questions that should be investigated include how the organization’s interests in a brand and its reputation, products, and governance are being perceived across the public media landscape, especially in a way that could affect valuation or future potential for growth.  Does the company being acquired have narrative risks that you may not be aware of that could affect its ability to attract investors, customers, and partnerships

Examples of harmful Due Diligence / M&A / Corporate Intelligence narratives include the company under due diligence accused of wrongdoing or misconduct in a way that could put the deal under pressure, critical elements in the company’s supply chain, including specific vendors or product ingredients, being vulnerable to information threats or showing a history of publicly visible problems (e.g., lawsuits, boycotts, etc.) that could threaten viability of the deal, social profiles of company executives indicating stances on issues, personal preferences, and networks, and portfolio monitoring post-acquisition to understand the narratives on how customers perceive the acquisition.

Environmental, Social, and Governance Narratives: An organization’s responsibility around environmental, social, and governance initiatives is at risk of narrative attacks based on the perception of how they address these issues and how the public understands them. With ongoing legislative changes, will it force the organization into compliance with audits where quantitative assessments of public discourse through narrative visibility can provide valuable perspectives? 

Examples of harmful ESG narratives include deteriorating public opinion, putting ESG initiatives and ratings at risk, accusations of greenwashing, racism, and treatment of employees, activism that accuses the organization of lack of responsibility regarding the environment like climate impact and pollution, human health impact, animal rights, and manufactured controversy and activism could lead to protest events, boycotts, class action lawsuits, and regulatory changes.

Physical Security Narratives: Physical security is of great concern to organizations as it pertains to employees and facilities across the globe. Your employees and facilities are essential and critical to your business and customers. Understanding the narratives that could impact them gives you an easy way to investigate global events that may affect your people, customers, infrastructure, or vendors.

Examples of harmful Physical Security narratives include significant events or venues facing security risks, coordinated protest events, threatening facilities, fielded equipment at risk (e.g., 5G towers, pipelines, etc.), and critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.

The Opportunity for Communications Leaders: Narrative Intelligence

For communication leaders, the rise of narrative attacks presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The threat posed by narrative attacks is a pressing issue that requires a sophisticated and proactive response. Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform offers a comprehensive solution, enabling organizations to effectively understand, monitor, and counter these threats. As narrative attacks continue to evolve, the role of such advanced intelligence platforms becomes increasingly crucial in safeguarding organizations from reputational and financial harm.

Blackbird.AI’s Response to Narrative Threats

Responding to this growing need and requests from our Fortune 2000 customers, Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform has become a crucial tool for understanding and countering harmful narratives. What sets Blackbird.AI apart is its AI-driven approach to narrative analysis. The platform goes beyond keyword counting and offers deeper insights into the nature and spread of harmful narratives. This capability is crucial for organizations to understand and respond to narrative threats effectively and proactively. The platform helps organizations comprehensively understand narrative attacks in real time, enabling them to make better strategic decisions when needed.

To learn more about how Blackbird.AI can help you in these situations, contact us here.

About Blackbird.AI

BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.

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