Unlocking the Power of Narrative Intelligence

Narrative Intelligence is a new defense category that helps brands and public-sector organizations make better decisions by surfacing hidden risk signals and combat narrative attacks fueled by misinformation and disinformation.

Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team on April 5, 2024

WHAT IS NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE? 

Narrative Intelligence is the ability to understand and interpret the complex interplay of storylines, information networks, community dynamics, and influential actors that shape public perception and discourse around specific topics or events. It involves examining the evolution and impact of narratives, identifying patterns of information flow and connections between users, segmenting like-minded communities based on shared characteristics, detecting irregular or manipulated behavior that amplifies or suppresses a narrative’s visibility, and measuring the engagement and influence of various actors in driving public opinion. 

By leveraging narrative intelligence, brands, public-sector organizations, and consumers can gain deeper insights into how different online communities engage with and respond to key narratives, assess the reach and impact of influential actors, and make informed decisions based on a comprehensive understanding of the factors shaping public perception and decision-making.

This image from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform visualizes the polarized echo chambers sharing narratives about Taylor Swift’s and Travis Kelce’s relationship. The narrative attacks demonstrate why narrative intelligence is important. This Constellation network graph reveals how groups and narratives interact by analyzing user interactions, hashtags, and URLs.

KEY COMPONENTS OF NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE:

Understanding Narratives: Narratives are storylines and themes that evolve around a specific topic, event, or organization. They shape public perception and understanding, often influencing opinions and decision-making.

The Networks They Span: Patterns of information flow and connections between users, revealing how they share and interact with concepts, ideas, and narratives. Analyzing networks helps identify influential actors, key communication channels, and the spread of information within communities.

The Cohorts That Connect Them: Like-minded communities or groups segmented based on shared characteristics, interests, or behaviors. Understanding cohorts allows for deeper insights into how different online tribes engage with and respond to key narratives across various sectors, industries, or topics.

The Anomalous Bot Behavior that Scales Them: Irregular, inorganic, or manipulated behavior that significantly amplifies or suppresses the visibility and spread of a narrative. This can include coordinated campaigns, bots, or other artificial means of influencing public discourse and perception.

Measuring Engagement: The level of interaction and impact generated by various harmful and trusted actors actively participating in and driving narratives. Measuring engagement helps assess the reach and influence of these actors on shaping public opinion and the overall conversation surrounding a topic.

INTRODUCTION TO NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE AND NARRATIVE ATTACKS

As the social web grows and the world becomes more connected, narrative intelligence and attacks have become increasingly urgent challenges. Narrative intelligence refers to our ability to understand, process, and utilize narratives meaningfully, while narrative attacks exploit this intelligence by manipulating narratives to influence, deceive, and harm. 

Narrative intelligence is acquired from experiences, events, and social interactions. It’s not just about telling stories; it’s about understanding the narrative structures that shape our perception of reality, influence our decisions, and guide our actions. This form of intelligence is fundamental in discerning truth from fiction, a skill increasingly vital in today’s information landscape. 

The problem is so acute that the World Economic Forum called the global misinformation and disinformation crisis humanity’s number one short-term threat. 

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THE ANATOMY OF A NARRATIVE ATTACK

To understand how to defend against narrative attacks, we must first grasp what they are and how they operate. Narratives are associations that shape perceptions about a person, place, or thing in the information ecosystem. Narrative attacks occur when malicious actors manipulate these associations to influence public opinion and perception. These attacks often begin with creating and disseminating false or misleading information, which can take many forms, including fake news articles, doctored images, or manipulated videos. They aim to craft a compelling, harmful narrative that resonates with a target audience, exploiting existing biases, fears, or prejudices.

Once the initial misinformation or disinformation is seeded, the attack relies on the viral spread of the narrative across various platforms and networks. Social media, in particular, has become a powerful tool for amplifying these malicious narratives, as it allows for the rapid sharing of content and the formation of echo chambers that reinforce certain beliefs.

As the narrative gains traction, it can be further amplified by unwitting individuals who share the content without realizing its inaccuracy. This organic spread, combined with automated tools like bots and algorithmic manipulation, can quickly escalate the narrative attack, causing it to reach a wide audience and potentially influencing public opinion and behavior.

This image from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform visualizes interactions between social media users starting the first day of the hack. The visualization is highly intertwined, indicating that many users likely interacted with numerous narratives.

THE IMPACT OF NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE

The consequences of narrative attacks can be far-reaching and severe. On a financial level, these attacks can lead to significant losses for organizations. It is estimated that perception manipulation costs companies around $78 billion annually, with publicly traded companies losing approximately $39 billion each year due to disinformation-related stock market losses.

Beyond the financial impact, narrative attacks can also cause irreparable damage to an organization’s reputation. In today’s highly competitive business landscape, trust is a valuable currency. When an organization’s credibility is undermined by disinformation, it can be difficult to regain the trust of customers, partners, and stakeholders. This erosion of trust can lead to lost business opportunities, decreased customer loyalty, and a tarnished brand image.

Moreover, narrative attacks can have serious implications for society as a whole. When disinformation is allowed to spread unchecked, it can lead to the polarization of communities, the erosion of democratic institutions, and the undermining of public trust in information sources. This can create confusion and distrust, making it difficult for individuals to make informed decisions and engage in constructive dialogue.

This image from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform depicts interactions between narratives discussing the alleged harassment of Utah’s women’s basketball team, colorized green to display topics advocating racial equality. In contrast, dark green indicates support for racial equality. The visualization demonstrates the widespread support given to the state’s account and the dissenting users expressed towards the alleged assailants. Skeptics of the incident are colored white and scattered on the outer edge of the conversation. This signified that claims alleging the incident were fabricated were not largely circulated throughout the conversation.

THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE

One of the most concerning aspects of narrative attacks is the increasingly sophisticated use of technology to amplify their reach and impact. Malicious actors are leveraging advanced tools like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation to create and disseminate disinformation at an unprecedented scale.

Generative AI, for example, can create highly realistic fake images, videos, and text, making it difficult for individuals to distinguish between genuine content and disinformation. These so-called “deepfakes” can be used to manipulate public opinion, spread propaganda, or even incite violence.

Similarly, bots and algorithmic manipulation can artificially amplify certain narratives, making them appear more popular or credible than they are. By gaming the algorithms that determine what content is shown to users on social media platforms, malicious actors can ensure that their disinformation reaches a wide audience and dominates public discourse.

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A STRATEGY FOR APPLYING NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE FOR A PROACTIVE DEFENSE

Given the severe consequences of narrative attacks and the sophisticated technologies employed by malicious actors, organizations must adopt a proactive approach to defense by implementing a multi-pronged strategy that incorporates Narrative Intelligence at its core. Waiting until an attack has already caused damage is no longer viable. Instead, organizations must be vigilant, constantly monitoring potential threats and taking swift action to counter them.

Blackbird.AI recommends several key strategies for protecting against narrative attacks through a narrative intelligence lens:

1. Comprehensive Monitoring: Organizations must go beyond simple social listening tools and implement dedicated monitoring systems that detect coordinated narrative attacks early on. By identifying potential threats as they emerge, organizations can take proactive steps to mitigate their impact.

2. Risk Assessment: Rather than simply debating the factual accuracy of information, organizations should focus on detecting attempts to manipulate narratives and analyzing their potential real-world impact. This involves understanding how harmful narratives impacting your organization influence public opinion, behavior, and decision-making.

3. Visibility and Context: To effectively counter-narrative attacks, organizations need to have a clear understanding of who is targeting them, how narratives are propagated, and how automation (bots that look human and act human) is being used to accelerate their spread. This requires deep visibility into the networks, actors, and technologies involved in the attack.

4. Rapid Response: In the fast-moving landscape of narrative attacks, speed is of the essence. Organizations must have access to the real data behind the narrative attack to move quickly to counter disinformation and mitigate its impact. This means having the tools, processes, and expertise to detect, analyze, and respond to threats in real time.

5. Counter Narratives: While it is important to debunk false information, simply refuting disinformation may not be enough to counter a narrative attack effectively. Organizations should consider developing counter-narratives that provide a compelling alternative to the malicious narrative. This requires a deep understanding of the target audience and the factors that drive their beliefs and behaviors.

6. Dedicated Expertise: Defending against narrative attacks is a complex and ever-evolving challenge. Organizations should consider working with a narrative intelligence partner with a purpose-built AI-based platform that enables them to automate the process to effectively monitor, analyze, and respond to these threats.

7. Educating Executives: Giving visibility to the top narrative attacks targeting your organization to the executive team in an easy-to-understand format is critical for better strategic decision-making. Countering narrative attacks requires a company-wide effort, with support and resources from the highest levels of the organization. Executives must recognize the seriousness of this threat and prioritize the development of effective defense strategies.

This image from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform visualizes the narratives between users, hashtags, and URLs discussing the alleged “rigging” of the NFL games overlaid with the negative sentiment metric, whereby dark red indicates the presence of negativity. The visualization was engulfed by dark red nodes, indicating that negativity permeated the entire conversation.

APPLICATIONS OF NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE

To effectively protect against narrative attacks, organizations need access to an AI-based Narrative Intelligence Platform that can help them monitor, analyze, and respond to these threats at scale. This is where narrative intelligence platforms like Blackbird.AI’s Constellation come in.

Constellation is an AI-driven platform that enables organizations to detect, measure, and prioritize narrative risk by analyzing vast amounts of data from across the web.. Blackbird.AI protects against narrative attacks impacting organizations as they scale and become harmful across social media, the news, and the dark web, the influence behind them, the anomalous bot behavior that scales them, and the cohorts and communities that connect and amplify them. Understanding these previously hidden risk signals helps customers make better strategic decisions. 

Narrative attack use cases include Brand Reputation/Risk, Geopolitical Risk, Cyber attacks, Perception Attacks, Insider Threats, Supply Chain Risk, Critical Manufacturing, Critical Infrastructure, Due Diligence / M&A / Corporate Intelligence, Physical Security, Crisis Management, Stock Manipulation, and Financial Market Exposure. 

One of Constellation’s key strengths is its ability to analyze data in multiple languages and formats, including text, images, and videos. This is crucial in today’s global information ecosystem, where narratives can spread across borders and platforms.

A Narrative Intelligence Platform like Constellation is a powerful tool in the fight against narrative attacks, technology alone is not enough. Organizations must also prioritize collaboration across key stakeholders to enable information sharing and counter these threats effectively. Many organizations are creating Fusion Centers, inviting leaders from marketing, communications, cybersecurity, and risk to engage regularly to be better prepared for when the next narrative attack hits. 

This collaboration should extend beyond individual organizations to include partnerships with government agencies, academic institutions, and civil society groups. These stakeholders can build a more resilient and informed defense against narrative attacks by working together.

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THE NEED FOR EDUCATION AND AWARENESS IS A CRITICAL PART OF YOUR NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY

Defending against narrative attacks requires a societal shift in how we consume and share information. We all have a role in promoting media literacy and critical thinking skills.

Organizations can support this effort by investing in employee education and training programs that help staff understand the nature of narrative attacks and how to identify and report potential threats. This can include training on how to spot fake news, verify sources, and think critically about the information they encounter online.

At a broader level, there is a need for public awareness campaigns that promote responsible information sharing and help individuals understand the consequences of spreading disinformation. By fostering a culture of critical thinking and healthy skepticism, we can build resilience against narrative attacks at a societal level.

Narrative attacks represent a significant and growing threat to organizations and society. As disinformation and misinformation continue to spread unprecedentedly, we must take proactive steps through a responsible narrative intelligence strategy to defend against these malicious efforts to manipulate public opinion and perception.

This image from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform visualizes the narrative clusters caused by misinformation and disinformation after a recent cyberattack impacted a major brand.

FAQS ABOUT NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE:

How quickly can narrative attacks spread online?

A: Narrative attacks can spread extremely quickly online, often reaching millions of people within hours or even minutes of initial seeding. The speed of spread depends on various factors, including the emotional resonance of the narrative, the networks and influencers amplifying it, and the algorithms of the platforms on which it is shared. In some cases, false stories have been shown to spread faster than true ones, underscoring the urgency of early detection and response.

What role does social media play in amplifying disinformation?
A: Social media platforms play a key role in amplifying disinformation, often unintentionally. Their business models and algorithms are designed to maximize engagement, which can lead to the rapid spread of emotionally charged or controversial content, regardless of its accuracy. Moreover, the ease of creating and sharing content on social media, combined with its anonymity, makes it an attractive tool for those seeking to spread disinformation. While platforms have taken steps to combat this issue, it remains an ongoing challenge.

How can I spot signs of a narrative attack targeting my organization? 

A: There are several potential signs of a narrative attack to watch for, including a sudden spike in negative or false stories about your organization, coordinated amplification of these stories across multiple platforms or accounts, and the use of manipulated or misleading content (e.g., doctored images, out-of-context quotes). Other indicators might include increased trolling or harassing behavior targeting your brand or employees, the co-opting of your brand hashtags, or imagery by bad actors. Monitoring for these signs requires a comprehensive and ongoing approach to narrative intelligence.

What are some examples of how AI is used in narrative intelligence? 

A: AI is used in narrative intelligence in various ways, including natural language processing to analyze narrative content and sentiment, machine learning to identify patterns and anomalies in the spread of information, and network analysis to map the relationships between different actors and communities. AI can also be used to automate the detection of malicious bots or coordinated inauthentic behavior and to aid in creating and disseminating counter-narratives. As the field advances, the applications of AI in narrative intelligence are likely to expand even further.

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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