The Frightening Manipulation of Our Opinions

The truly frightening aspect of the recently released Republican staff memo about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act subpoena is not whether it compromised the FBI or whether it exonerated President Trump or further ensnarled him in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The truly disturbing aspect of the entire debacle is how social media was used to influence the thought processes of Americans. Let me explain.

For 11 days before the House Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the memo and long before Trump signed the Order releasing the memo to the public, a small group of Russian bots and the Alt-Right were all over the issue. A #releasethememo movement was pressing conservative lawmakers and conservative talk show hosts by inundating them with computational propaganda, which Politico has documented and analyzed in its on-line magazine.

According to the article’s author, Molly K. McKew, computational propaganda – defined as “the use of information and communication technologies to manipulate perceptions, affect cognition, and influence behavior” was successfully used to manipulate American politicians and the public generally to demand the release of the memo. The author tracked the origin of #releasethememo beginning with a single Tweet from a relatively small conservative Twitter account in Michigan on the afternoon of January 18th to being retweeted at a rate of 250,000 times per hour by midnight the next day.

Those especially targeted with #releasethememo Tweets were Republican politicians including Donald Trump, Steve King of Iowa, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Lee Zeldin of New York, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Also targeted were conservative media personalities like Laura Ingraham, Bill Mitchell and Sean Hannity.

All of them took the bait and began calling for the release of the memo because of the “overwhelming groundswell of public opinion” when in fact there was none. What existed was a small group of Twitter manipulators that successfully co-opted conservative American news coverage and thus conservative American thought.

Liberals should not be crowing that this is a Russian, alt-right, Trumpian phenomenon. According to the story in Politico, the far-left is “coming into its own as part of this machine. And they all play into the same destructive narrative against the American mind.”

To read the entire story, click on the following link:


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