A Review of ‘Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online’
In Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online, Marwick and Lewis (2017) of the Data & Society Research Institute described the agents of media manipulation, their modus operandi, motivators, and how they’ve taken advantage of the vulnerability of online media. The researchers described the manipulators as right-wing extremists (RWE), also known as alt-right, who run the gamut from sexists (including male sexual conquest communities) to white nationalists to anti-immigration activists and even those who rebuke RWE identification but whose actions confer such classification. These manipulators rally behind a shared belief on online forums, blogs, podcasts, and social media through pranks or ruinous trolling anonymity, usurping participatory culture methods (networking, humor, mentorship) for harassment, and competitive cyber brigades that earn status by escalating bullying such as the sharing of a target’s private information.
Marwick and Lewis reported on how RWE groups have taken advantage of certain media tactics to gain viewers’ attention such as novelty and sensationalism, as well as their interactions with the public via social media, to manipulate it for their agenda. For instance, YouTube provides any individual with a portal and potential revenue to contribute to the media ecosystem. The researchers shared the example of the use of YouTube by conspiracy theorists, which can be used as fodder for extremist networks as conspiracies generally focus on loss of control of important ideals, health, and safety.
One tactic they’re using is to package their hate in a way that appeals to millennials. They use attention hacking to increase their status such as hate speech, which is later recanted as trickster trolling all the while gaining the media’s attention for further propagation
SHARED MODUS OPERANDI
Marwick and Lewis reported the following shared tactics various RWE groups use for online exploits:
- Ambiguity of persona or ideology,
- Baiting a single or community target’s emotions,
- Bots for amplification of propaganda that appears legitimately from a real person,
- “…Embeddedness in Internet culture… (p. 28),”
- Exploitation of young male rebelliousness,
- Hate speech and offensive language (under the guise of First Amendment protections),
- Irony to cloak ideology and/or skewer intended targets,
- Memes for stickiness of propaganda,
- Mentorship in argumentation, marketing strategies, and subversive literature in their communities of interest,
- Networked and agile groups,
- “…Permanent warfare… (p.12)” call to action,
- Pseudo scholarship to deceive readers,
- “…Quasi moral arguments… (p. 7)”
- Shocking images for filtering network membership,
- “Trading stories up the chain… (p. 38)” from low-level news outlets to mainstream, and
- Trolling others with asocial behavior.
teenagers in Veles, Macedonia who profited around 16K dollars per month via Google’s AdSense from Facebook post engagements
a long history of mistrust with mainstream media
If you’re a college instructor of communications or teach digital literacy as a librarian, see the corresponding syllabus for this article. It provides discussion questions and assignments for teaching students about media manipulation. To teach your students how to combat fake news online, see my post on Navigating Post-Truth Societies: Strategies, Resources, and Technologies.
more on fake news in this iMS blog