Propaganda and Disinformation News from the Week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3

There’s an interesting assortment of news in the propaganda field this week.

A new study on fake grass-roots campaigns (“astroturfing”) summarized in the Washington Post  came to some interesting conclusions: Most tweets and posts are from actual human beings, not bots. And those human beings are lazy. They tend to work just during office hours, repeat language verbatim (often cutting-and-pasting) from their co-workers, and respond to the bosses’ push, rather than an organic schedule. So, if you see a lot of repetitious tweets trying to yank your chain from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (9-5 in St. Petersburg), they’re probably from bored trolls, not bots.

The Russians are also busy in Africa, with AFP reporting Facebook taking down fake accounts in eight countries. The accounts are linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Putin ally behind the Internet Research Agency, which had cause so much mischief in the 2016 US elections. Analysts say the Africa operation is a way to reassert Russian power in Africa. The mercenary army Wagner Group, also run by Prigozhin, has been more, ah, physically active in promoting Russian interests in Africa and Syria.

Some interesting news about twitter popped this past week as well. The big one that you’ve already heard about is CEO Jack Dorsey announcing a ban on political ads. Of course, politicians such as the Big Kahuna in the White House can continue to tweet lies to their hearts’ content. He clearly punked Zuckerberg, whose decision to accept all sorts of lying political ads was couched in all sorts of free speech platitudes, but was undoubtedly a cover for the business suicide mission of monitoring politicians’ and political groups’ lying. (Check out this interesting CJR discussion on the topic.) Maybe Mark should stick to cat videos.

Of course, propaganda is not limited to shadowy Russians or pasty-faced trolls.  Prominent anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. is putting out a new propaganda film, “Vaxxed II,” this coming week. The sequel to “Vaxxed” should persuade a lot of people to put their kids and their communities at risk from easily avoided and often lethal diseases. Maybe they can all get red baseball hats with something like “Make Polio Endemic Again” on them?

Author: Dr. John Jenks

I am a professor of Communication at Dominican University, and research the post-1945 history of propaganda and journalism.

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