Propaganda is used to support a narrative in the public’s debate about how the world works, what everything means, and how we should think and act. In order to create and disseminate propaganda, these are the steps a propagandist might take.
Incidentally, I am using Trump and republicans as examples in this exercise because those are the current holders of power in the US, and because in recent years right-wing propaganda has been abundant.
1. Write an over-the-top headline:
This headline is great for propaganda because it simultaneously instills outrage and smugness. The headline writer imagines his audience thinking, “I love Trump and hate Obama, so it is really going to feel good to share this!”
2. Make a Claim that disparages a political opponent or group:
The claim of the article is that Obama does not deserve any credit for economic growth under the Trump administration, and that he is a whiner and liar. (As a side note, the author’s tagline is simply “Rusty.” Who is that exactly?)
3. Discredit other media outlets:
In this case the propagandist embeds a Tweet that disparages the mainstream media. This is useful because it reinforces the idea in their target audience that they cannot trust any other sources for information, and that they must come to the propagandist for the truth.
4. Link to a credible-looking source to give the appearance of consensus:
This is useful (even though mainstream media sources are ostensibly no good) because it shows that the propagandist is not just making this stuff up. Even the mainstream news is reporting about it.
5. The propagandist knows that most people in his target audience won’t click the link and verify it:
In this case the link leads to a page that doesn’t exist.
6. Hope they don’t track the actual story down because the truth is almost always more nuanced than the world presented by the propagandist:
The actual story gives both Trump AND Obama credit. But the article ultimately cautions that it is too soon to give Trump credit for the economy.
7. Put plenty of ads on the page to fund future propaganda:
Ad sales are what makes creating fake content especially appealing. Even if the propagandist has no particular stake in the political discussion, fake news sites can generate a lot of ad revenue.
8. Produce other similar stories that will appeal to the target demographic, either by stoking their rage or making them feel smart and vindicated:
Propagandists want to keep people on their site(s) reading the same kinds of stories and reinforcing the fake narrative. One side is always presented as right and the other always wrong.
9. Direct people to other sites within the same information ecosystem to create an echo chamber:
An echo chamber is a media or information system that replays the same message (or the same KIND of message) over and over again in a closed system that doesn’t allow dissenting views. This serves to reinforce the message. In the era of the internet, these kinds of systems create vast silos of uninformed people all reinforcing the same kinds of misinformation to one another. They start doing the propagandist’s work for him! The more shares, the more links, the more ads, the greater the revenue. Even after the original posts of false information are taken down the lie continues to propagate.
10. An example:
Look at this URL (click the image to make it larger):
In the moments after the Jacksonville shooting, Gateway Pundit falsely charged the shooter with being a liberal who hated Trump. Though the URL stated it clearly, the actual story on the page had nothing to do with Trump, resistance, or liberals:
This was a subtle way to influence public discourse without necessarily having to take credit for an outright lie. Propaganda is used to make lies seem like a valid and prevalent part of dialog in the public sphere. When people get locked into echo chambers of propaganda, they can develop very skewed and counterfactual relationships with information.
Here is an example of the echo chamber effect on Twitter:
11. Further Reading:
In this study, we analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign. (Read More)
Here Are Some of the Propaganda Facebook Ads Russia Ran During the 2016 Election
By Jack Holmes
The Cambridge Analytica Files
By: Multiple Authors
This page houses all of the articles produced during the Guardian’s year-long investigation of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and election influence in the digital age. (Read more)
Cloak and Data: The Real Story Behind Cambridge Analytica’s Rise and Fall
By: Andy Kroll
Brought to Cruz by two of the campaign’s biggest backers, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, Cambridge Analytica was put in charge of the entire data and digital operation, embedding 12 of its employees in Houston. The company, largely owned by Robert Mercer, said it had something special for Cruz. According to marketing materials obtained by Mother Jones, it pitched a “revolutionary” piece of software called Ripon, an all-in-one tool that let a campaign manage its voter database, microtargeting efforts, door-to-door canvassing, low-dollar fundraising, and surveys. Ripon, Cambridge vowed, was “the future of campaigning.” (Read More)
What Did Cambridge Analytica Really Do for Trump’s Campaign?
By: Issie Lapowsky
NEWS THAT CAMBRIDGE Analytica CEO Alexander Nix approached Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last year to exploit Hillary Clinton’s private emails has amplified questions about Cambridge’s role in President Trump’s 2016 campaign. (Read More)
The City Getting Rich from Fake News
Many of the fake news websites that sprang up during the US election campaign have been traced to a small city in Macedonia, where teenagers are pumping out sensationalist stories to earn cash from advertising.
The young man sitting in the cafe looks barely more than a boy – he hasn’t shaved for a few days, yet he’s a long way off achieving designer stubble. The hair on his chin and cheeks is still soft and his smart navy blazer and clean white shirt make him look as if he’s in school uniform.
It’s not the image that 19-year-old university student, Goran, sitting far back in his chair with one leg crossed over the other wants to portray.
“The Americans loved our stories and we make money from them,” he boasts, making sure I see the designer watch he’s fiddling with. “Who cares if they are true or false?” (Read More)