From Brexit to Christchurch

The tactics & tools used by modern propagandists

(Thanks again to Tash Wilcocks for this amazing illustration)

Derision of Experts was at the heart of Karl Rove’s “reality-based communities” concept. It’s become a key component of modern propaganda since. “People in this country have had enough of experts” is an example from shit-weasel, Michael Gove.

Repetition was one of Goebbels’ chief weapons as Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. It remains a powerful tactic for propagandists today. They repeat their claims ad infinitum even after proven wrong. Vote Leave continued making their bullshit claim of giving the NHS £350 million a week if Brexit happened UNTIL the very day after the referendum.

Another common tactic is feigned rejection of partisanship. Senate Majority Leader and Geriatric Mutant Pedo Turtle, Mitch McConnell has made a career out of this horse-shit. Under his leadership the GoP has enforced strict party discipline while lying about being more bipartisan than the Democrats.

All roads lead back to this Boris Johnson and his god damned Brexit bus. Propagandists run on utopian campaigns now. They make egregious promises, based on lies, that they have no intent to deliver on. They’ve spent so much time trading on fear that they’re trying their hand at optimism instead.

…of course, they haven’t stopped peddling darker notions. Conspiracism, and belief in conspiracies, is at an all time high. Birtherism, QANON, Pizzagate… I could go on and on. They are purpose-built to radicalise people and drive them to stochastic terrorism. Lest we forget a man entered the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria featured in Pizzagate and fired an AR-15 rifle.

The original sin of social media is programmatic advertising. Propagandists are able to micro-target their lies for maximum impact and minimal cost. Some sources say Russia’s Internet Research Agency only spent $100,000 on their election influence campaign. The IRA and other propagandists use micro-targeting in sophisticated and nuanced ways. Let’s look deeper…

The IRA crafted messages based on users’ race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and political affiliation. As well as their interest in things like the Tea Party, Malcolm X, “funny pics,” Fox News, and Maya Angelou. They fixated on racial tensions in general and Black Lives Matter in particular. These fake ads and groups leveraged REAL concerns to their own ends. In effect, they weaponised dissent — our most fundamental and important aspect of democracy!

And finally, propagandists have weaponised objectivity. 20th century journalism prided itself on objectivity. Groups like the BBC even have legal obligations to be impartial. To give “fair and balanced” air-time to all comers. Nigel Farage has appeared on the BBC more in recent years than most any other politician. The NYT, CNN, etc. have hired far right extremists, neo-nazis and climate change deniers. Depending on your pov that’s either a cynical cash grab or a misguided attempt at fairness.

So how does this all come together in the hands of bad actors? There are a lot of tricks and tools used by Internet trolls but I want to shine a light on two that are particularly distressing in light of recent events.

Redpilling is the copypasta recruitment strategy far right extremists use to flip at risk converts to join their shitty nihilist crusade. Shitposting is the act of throwing out huge amounts of coded meme content to confuse, distract, and aggravate your enemies while entertaining, inspiring, and communicating with your allies. The manifesto of the Christchurch shooter is an obvious example of this technique.

Everything we’ve talked about is signal boosted across social media. The fundamental business model of many of these platforms is advertising revenue. And that revenue is predicated on daily active users. Sadly outrage outperforms happiness by leaps and bounds — we click more when we’re angry. We no longer live in an attention economy but rather an outrage economy.

This all came to a head recently in Christchurch, New Zealand when an alt-right terrorist murdered 50 people and injured dozens more. The attack was live-streamed on Facebook, broadcast to YouTube, and shared along with his manifesto on Reddit, 4Chan, 8Chan, and more. You could even download it via The Daily Mail. His media strategy was so complete and so expedient that unlike similar attacks in the recent past there was no gap for copy cat interpretations to emerge.

File under: #propaganda #internettrolls #brexit #christchurch #stochasticterrorism
Next week: 
We’ll talk about how to fight this shit. Because we have to fight this shit.