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Disinformation and Guacamole? How Companies that Run Super Bowl Ads May Get Unwanted Attention


This year a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl will cost $5M. In buying the time, the companies may very well be inviting hackers to hijack their brands. That may sound extreme, but successful businesses with strong reputations are vulnerable.

Companies as visible and profitable as ones who can afford Super Bowl ads may get shamed for almost anything, including for example, mishandling a civil rights issue. The reality is none or little of the story may be true, and the exploitation of any controversial story –true or not– is likely.

Ingredients of Disinformation Can Include:

  • Doctored photos
  • Forged documents
  • Detailed internet fraud initiatives
  • Fake websites and “sockpuppet” social media accounts

Why Hackers Want to Attack Big Name Brands:

1. Shame the Big Name

Sometimes the goal of disinformation is simply to embarrass a seemingly untouchable giant of commerce. This type of campaign is often orchestrated by individuals who just want to make trouble and are not out for remuneration.

2. Co-opt Reputation

Sometimes hackers don’t want to hold anything ransom or make a demand. Exposure alongside a known brand name can bring validity to a previously unknown entity. Small-scale hackers may like this strategy.

3. Disrupt Business

If a well-known brand that sells a popular product from thousands of street corners all over the world is the victim of a disinformation campaign it can make sales plummet. Campaigns such as these are frequently the work of a small number of ideologically-driven organized actors who are out for a specific benefit, such as causing stock values to plummet. Often, they will be responding to a socially controversial policy or value the company has advocated (such as diversity in hiring or policies driven by religious belief).

4. Invalidate A Regime Or An Economic Structure

State-sponsored disinformation campaigns are often supported by regimes that want to destabilize other governments or even economic structures, for example by raising doubt in financial entities in capitalist societies. Why? If they can’t elevate the perception of their own system, denigrate another one.

Why Should I Care?

Viral posts on social media can make disinformation a problem for communities, and even whole countries. If a business with locations on Main Street, USA is a publicly held company and is the victim of a disinformation attack, the value of its stock might drop. Now imagine multiple large companies, such as companies that can afford a Super Bowl commercials are all attacked. In a worst-case scenario, the impact could be far-reaching enough to disrupt a whole economy.

You Are Not Just a Spectator; You’re in the Game

There are steps you can take to limit the power of disinformation. Consider seeking out news the way you pursue a weather forecast. Let yourself be informed, not validated. Forwarding a post without checking news sources gives the story merit through repetition, not investigation. Check “stories” on multiple sources, and don’t share or like anything you don’t know to be true. If a story is spreading extremely rapidly, assess it even more skeptically. These stories might not just be wrong, they might be propagated by automatic means at scale in order to cause problems. If enough people take even simple steps the results may add up to a cleaner internet.

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