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Anti-establishment views these days seem to be a bit like a common cold — one country catches it, sneezes, and passes it along to the next. Identifying patient zero might be a challenge, but the links between countries are certainly identifiable. Take the U.K., for example. In analysing Facebook pages championing political parties in the lead up to the 2017 General Election, connections between Great Britain, the U.S., and Canada can be found, at least to the right of the political spectrum. (This doesn’t mean right-leaning views are the only anti-establishment ones to be found in the U.K.)
In a Digital Age, perhaps ironically, when technology has made so many things that much easier, it will come down to a much older tool — our minds — to ensure we are not manipulated by propaganda, or much worse, coopted into becoming propagandists for a cause or politician through this participatory model.
One type of political communication seems to be particularly well suited to participatory propaganda — populism. In positioning a political leader on the side of the “people” in a struggle against a corrupt elite, populists use the participatory propaganda model effectively to erode faith in the established order. Many of the steps outlined below help to sow doubt and fuel dissatisfaction with the way things are.
In 2014, the World Economic Forum listed “the spread of misinformation online” as one of the top 10 trends facing the world. By 2016, Reporters Without Borders declared that we “have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms — especially in democracies.”
Propaganda is changing in a Digital Age. Audiences are no longer passive consumers of persuasive content, but active in its creation and spread, helping to further the agenda of propagandists whose messaging resonates with the target’s world view.
That’s a good question. Most people don’t really know. In fact, many academics are still debating what is and what isn’t propaganda. It is a serious problem, because while the experts are lost in semantics, those who wish to persuade people are effectively doing so with very little resistance.
This is the dawning of the age of persuasion and most people are simply not prepared. For most of us, the internet is an always-on source of information and entertainment – but as we become more immersed in an interconnected world, our risk of manipulation increases.
Much coverage has been dedicated to fake news as of late: how fake news helped Trump win the presidency; about trolls who prank the media for fun; or Russia’s continued focus on distorting the information space. The problem of unreliable information is not unique to any one society. In Indonesia, a series of fake stories quickly spread through social media platforms and led to a rise in anti-Chinese sentiments and sectarian tensions. At the same time, governments in both Germany and Czech Republic, where concerns over potential Russian influence on voters’ decisions in the respective 2017 elections are increasing, plan to set up expert-based centres to combat the spreading of fake news and disinformation online.
How do you know you aren’t a propagandist? Becoming a propagandist is easier than you think.
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to present a TED Talk on the Digital Age at Whitehall in London. The event, Tedx Whitehall Women, was hosted by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The theme of the overall TEDx event was “Time” – and so I presented on how we should take the time to stop and think before falling down the digital rabbit hole. My friend and colleague, Jesus Rivera, made the beautiful animations to support the talk. Below are the video of the talk and transcript:
There has been a growing focus on using strategic communication to counter violent extremism. And, rightly so. Since propaganda—or deliberate and systematic communication that aims to persuade—is used to encourage violent extremism, it would only make sense that strategic and persuasive communication is also used in an attempt to discourage support of extremist activities. Communications alone, however, is not enough to effectively dissuade at-risk populations from pursuing violence, an extreme form of political confrontation. Sure, communications could lead a holder of such extreme views to a compromise if not peace, but only if a reasonably acceptable alternative is presented. A combination of understanding (what drives the target audience to violent extremism), provision of a viable alternative (to channel anger into positive action), and their persuasive presentation is required for an effective Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).
Understandably, much of the world is trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s presidential victory on November 8, 2016. Much of this reckoning takes the form of finger pointing and blame: it’s the media’s fault; the social networks let people create distorting echo chambers; of course, it was the FBI; no, Trump soared on a “global white backlash”. Others pointed out that it was “Clinton’s loss, not Trump’s win” – and there appears to be some truth to that.
A week after an historic referendum in Britain, a strategic communications analysis of two campaigns offers another perspective on why the Leave campaign proved to be more successful. While socio-economic, cultural and psychological factors have undoubtedly framed the political discourse and provided context for debates, both campaigns adopted and used classic propaganda methods to achieve their objectives.
With the release of its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders proclaimed “we are entering a new era of propaganda”. Indeed, Information is increasingly being manipulated and controlled in attempts to sway unsuspecting target audiences. This can have serious implications for society at large.