Disinformation · Information operations · Information Warfare

Strongly NOT Recommended: Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online


A strongly biased, deeply troubling report.  Only one side is presented: all case studies are of Trump and the US political far right embellishing the truth, manipulating the facts, and presenting a false narrative.  

There are a plethora of basic problems with this report.

  • Starting with the title, this is a review of various extreme right factors which raised the ire of those on the extreme left and probably troubled the remainder of the left as well as the right. There is no cause/effect offered in the report, the title assumes the reader can make that connection – but fails. 
  • The time period of the report is not hinted at in the title, it is of media manipulation and disinformation online immediately prior to the US 2016 Presidential election.  A subtitle could have easily solved this problem.
  • The factors at play may have indirectly impacted the presidential election, and perhaps still impact us today, but it is not until the first paragraph of the introduction (not labeled as such) until a date is established and only in the second paragraph is the focus revealed.  The reader must assume the factors introduced had an impact, but there are no qualitative or quantitative factors introduced.
  • There is no quantitative data introduced at all. 

The report is strongly biased to the extreme left, concerning US domestic politics, with distinct, very strong feminist overtones, deeply troubling to the extreme. 

No examples from the left are offered, while the majority (more than 51%) of the mainstream press in the US is biased to the left.   No examples of foreign influence are offered.  There is no mention of volume, of tone, of echoing, of repetition, of any of the techniques used by any side during the election. 

Three whole pages are devoted to one of my favorite topics, trolls. The first page is filler because the authors could have simply said that trolls are offensive, and not have included the 4chan history. It is not until the last of the three pages that they attempt to answer the “so what” question, what effect did the trolls have? Answer: an “emotional affect”.  Kudos for the coverage of Poes law, however. But what is missing is any statements of the overwhelming volume of troll comments, especially during the height of the campaign. From personal experience, there was an avalanche of trolls and their comments, strongly discouraging actual discourse, making argumentative techniques moot, and chasing away actual commenters. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies did not care, not in the least, because there was no criminal activity and no financial loss to mandate the identification and pursuit of trolls. But trolls from both side of the political spectrum in US domestic politics inured their way into the forums, the comment sections, and discussion boards, and mucked things up, totally.  What the authors included, however, was a fairly dry discussion of why trolls post ambiguous statements. I’m not really sure the authors have actually experienced trolls, personally. In the big picture, however, trolls have no real effect except to chase away truly interested commenters, those with the intent of sharing information, or those wanting to learn from others. 

I strongly doubt this report’s veracity. An apparent obsession with the alt-right, the “manosphere”, male “pick-up artists”, conspiracy theorists, numerous mentions of ‘white nationalist’ sites and groups, and the white student union – these appear to be the entire focus of the paper with absolutely no compilation, analysis, or reporting of actual factors.  

I would be remiss if I did not copy and paste the ENTIRE section devoted to social media: 

MAINSTREAM SOCIAL MEDIA SITES Mainstream social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are used by members of the far-right to spread extreme messaging to large numbers of people and to seed topics for journalists. On Facebook, private groups share memes, which are then circulated further through personal networks. Facebook is also a central space for spreading misinformation, as it is a popular location for hyper-partisan news organizations and “fake news.”117 Far-right actors frequently game Twitter’s trending topics feature to amplify certain stories or messages.118 And YouTube gives a platform to conspiracy theorists and fringe groups who can make persuasive, engaging videos on outrageous topics. In the Case Studies, we have provided specific examples of far-right actors using mainstream social media sites to increase visibility for their desired messaging.

The immense impact of social media is vastly understated if this is the total amount of space devoted to this nascent, hugely voluminous, and rapidly evolving field. 

There is a section devoted to something called “cuck”, although the authors do not appear to understand the concept of cuckolding. To read it is almost amusing, it felt like they were trying to have sex wearing latex gloves and using forceps. This is followed by a genuinely amusing paragraph, which I include in total because it defies sane description. 

A popular variant of this is “cuckservative,” which refers to mainstream Republicans who hold opinions deemed insufficiently conservative on issues like immigration, transgender rights, and Israel.154 The racial subtext of the term is important. Richard Spencer strongly protested the use of “cuck” to refer to liberals or beta males. “Cuckservative is, put simply, important: it has gotten under the skin of our enemies and has become a harbinger for something beyond conservatism. Thus, it is important that we get it right—and not allow the meme to be turned into just another synonym for ‘liberal’ …The #cuckservative meme doesn’t make any sense without race. It’s all about race.”155

In all good conscience, I cannot recommend anyone read this report unless you are extremely liberal and want to reinforce your assumptions. This report appears to be one large excuse for why Hillary Clinton lost the election, with the media and online media helping contribute.  One poignant example is missing from their coverage of Hillary Clinton’s health problems when she had to leave a 9/11 memorial service early. They briefly mention “video clips” but neglect to mention the deeply disturbing images of her staggering and stumbling, looking almost zombie-like in appearance. This one incident, seen from multiple angles, was perhaps the single-greatest factor in many people starting to doubt her truthfulness and beginning to question her health.  

By not including any examples of “leftist” manipulation by the press, by the mainstream media, and by the pundits, the authors presented a grossly incomplete story.  This piece of work is the definition of a terrible report.  

Bottom line, the authors, Dr. Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis, are not to be taken seriously in this report. The report is a sham. Data & Society Research Institute, you should be ashamed. 

 </end editorial>

ps. I have followed Russian Information Warfare closely since late 2013 and was reporting on that here, in this blog. I noticed the Russian propaganda machine shifting focus to the US presidential election, as well as the cacophony of a presidential campaign. I reported here on Russian propaganda stories being picked up by mainstream media, which were distorting, misinforming, even fabricating gross lies. The Russian media were mostly smearing Hillary Clinton, while  Trump was barely mentioned. This belies the stories being told, later in the campaign and after, that the Russian media was supporting Trump. Putin and Trump coincidentally had the same goal: defeat Hillary, and in their rabid pursuit for sensationalism, the US media and the pundits seem to have missed that one simple point. This report also misses that point and blames everyone but the candidate Hillary for her loss. It is with sadness that I judge this report a farce.

This report is an actual example of ‘Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online’, anyone with an extreme liberal bias can forever cite this as an example. It’s histrionics of presenting extreme ‘right’ factors without giving an example of how they actually impacted the media, both conventional and social, assumes away any fidelity this report might have hoped to achieve.

I cannot possibly say enough bad things about this report.



Published May 15, 2017

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Illustration by Jim Cooke

“the spread of false or misleading information is having real and negative effects on the public consumption of news.”

  • Internet subcultures take advantage of the current media ecosystem to manipulate news frames, set agendas, and propagate ideas.
  • Far-right groups develop techniques of “attention hacking” to increase the visibility of their ideas through the strategic use of social media, memes, and bots—as well as by targeting journalists, bloggers, and influencers to help spread content.
  • The media’s dependence on social media, analytics and metrics, sensationalism, novelty over newsworthiness, and clickbait makes them vulnerable to such media manipulation.
  • While trolls, white nationalists, Men’s Rights Activists, gamergaters, the “alt-right,” and conspiracy theorists may diverge deeply in their beliefs, they share tactics and converge on common issues.
  • The far-right exploits young men’s rebellion and dislike of “political correctness” to spread white supremacist thought, Islamophobia, and misogyny through irony and knowledge of internet culture.
  • Media manipulation may contribute to decreased trust of mainstream media, increased misinformation, and further radicalization.
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