Hey, Soldier - Grab Your Keyboard and Fight!
You Too Can Combat Extremist Social Media Manipulation
Sorry this post is so late but my regular readers will remember that I’ve been away. I was in other countries looking for an evacuation zone. I hope we won’t need one.
If you care about reality and a livable civil society but feel powerless right now, why not join the fight to protect them? It’s empowering to participate and it will make a difference. All you have to do is spend a little additional time doing what you already do on social media, using some simple techniques I outline below.
With the election one (!!) day away, now is the perfect time to warm up for 2024. This is but a dress rehearsal for an onslaught of social media insanity going into the next election. It’s a great time to harness your energy and motivation to start preparing for the next round.
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
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I’ve written before about how social media and the entire Internet has been weaponized by State actors, and that full-fledged global psychological warfare has been going on for years. Searching on said Internet will bring up a tsunami of evidence supporting this, along with the usual “Whatever shall we do?!” hand-wringing commentary from academia and old-guard political types.
Unfortunately for progressives everywhere, one of those State actors is the “right wing,” “conservative,” or “Republican” faction of the US political machinery.
A more appropriate moniker would be “authoritarian extremist,” or maybe “sociopathic.” It’s important to call things what they are. Words matter. They are the bullets in this war. It’s time to fight. That’s what this post is about.
The extremists wield unlimited dollars and feed legions of content creators to post endless streams of messages crafted per the Psy Ops playbook: demonizing attacks, ideological catchphrases, blatant lies and propaganda. Repetition, the foundational technique of any persuasion campaign, breeds acceptance and then agreement, especially when messages trigger primal tribal emotions. Brexit, Trump, Ukraine, Proud Boys, QAnon and Capitol insurrection are the result.
Progressives’ lack of ability or willingness to fight back is inexplicable and inexcusable. It’s as if the Ukrainian army was standing around in the street debating the benefits of different calibers of rifle ammunition, and whether it’s better to shoot from rooftops or out shop windows, while the enemy rolls tanks through town. “We really ought to do something. Would a round negotiating table be better, or perhaps an oval?” We have a President responding to the extremist assault by saying “You meanies are attacking our traditions. Civil war is bad, m’kay?”
Psy Ops defense isn’t rocket science - the tools of psychological manipulation, or persuasiveness, however you want to frame it, are well known. No state secrets here. What it takes is numbers. Lots of people. Lots of messages. Lots and lots of messages. A well-financed and effective organization would be nice but we don’t have one. “You fight with the army you have and not the one you wish you had” to paraphrase the second intelligent thing Donald Rumsfeld ever said.
That’s where you come in. This post is a very quick look at how your keyboards can become weapons to neutralize a hostile enemy. If everyone reading this post shared it with two other people, each of whom shared it with another two, and so on, and everyone fought back effectively with their social media accounts, the extremists’ campaigns would be dead before you could say “KPop.”
Here are some techniques that can be used to control the conversations on social media. China has used some of these actions to control dissent and disquiet within their regime. We can do this, too, but on the side of humanism, enlightenment, and our progressive values, if we will fight. All it requires is leveraging some online time to respond to the adversary in effective ways, and encouraging others to do the same. Per numeros vincemus.
Social Media Psy Ops Countermeasures
The techniques listed here are amply discussed in detail online and have been used by others. This summary is a starting point, listing some ideas you may want to investigate further.
Follow some adversarial accounts so you have exposure to the feeds of possible participants in, or victims of, the warfare operation. Look for account with posts that fit Psy Ops characteristics.
Ignore ideology. The adversary is not necessarily going to be on "your" or "their" side of the issues. Combatants will present both sides of any argument, making posts that fit a Psy Ops profile, with the intent to inflame emotion in any direction. The goal is conflict.
Follow hashtags that are volatile and related to the issues of the moment that are likely being manipulated. #BLM #MAGA #MeToo #Qanon and others were prolific sources of inflammatory propaganda back in the day. Pick new ones to suit your personal tastes. Or tolerance level.
Reposts/retweets of Psy Ops posts can be created together with added comments or text that dilutes, distracts, obscures, or deflects the intention (see next paragraphs.) They typically include the original post contents, links, and hashtags, and then add new hashtags, and additional users. The goal is to get as many eyeballs as possible from the original content to pay attention to the countermeasure. New messages can be created using the same principles.
Different Flavors of Countermeasure Actions
These are some of the fundamental building blocks of responding to weaponized social media posts. They are applied as desired to responses, or new messages:
Dilute: Some people write nonsense, nursery rhymes. Recipes for chuck roast. Random Wikipedia content. Add links to irrelevant websites (using an URL-shortener like tinyurl.com) and if the website is especially slow, filled with ads and trackers, so much the better. Hashtag dilution is accomplished by adding unrelated hashtags.
Distract: If the poster is a fanatic Fox News fan, someone might post a link to an unrelated and benign news story on Fox, such as a profile/bio of a commentator, or an unrelated event of interest. Links to fluff pieces about celebrities and sports. Anything to derail attention, causing at least momentary distraction about the newest Kylie Jenner replacement or NFL replays.
Obscure: Adding noise and gibberish in a repost can make the original message meaningless and ridiculous. If enough garbage messages appear in the comments thread, adversaries will tire of scrolling through them all and the conversation will disappear. This Word Salad generator is fun: here it takes a quote from Trump about building The Wall and turns it into nonsense:
"AID BILE BOILED ANT WHEAT WARE--AD ANYBODY BILLS WARMS BEEFER WEAN AWE, BELIEF AM--ASP I'll BUILT ANTHEM BERT INEXPENSIVELY. WIN WILLIS BUD AT WREATH, AREA AL BAN AMOUR SOUTHERN BURDEN, BANS AIR YELL BABE MEXICO BAY WON BAT WILLS. YARN AD WORTH
Deflect: This is a technique where the response to a post derails the attacker's message. A message of racism directed towards Black Americans could be responded to with a link to a story about the Dalai Lama's message of peace. A post about the "heroism" of armed protesters could be repeated with comments of bible quotes. Attention is redirected to a different message that neutralizes the intended emotion.
Interfere: Large-scale misappropriation of an adversary’s trending hashtags is an effective way to obliterate their message. Adding the hashtags to random unrelated content both dilutes and obscures.
Call to Action
Not everyone takes the same approach to fighting, and there are organizations who are using other methods to combat the extremists. One day we may have enough experience with different modes of social media warfare to assess the best defense and prevention methods. But currently the only effective mode we can point to is the one used by the extremists so we fight fire not with more fire, but with cold wet smothering foam.
Indivisible.org has some different and complementary approaches and I recommend you take a look at their site. See if you want to get involved.
The only way these countermeasures can become effective is if they are shared and used. To that end, I will personally contribute $1.00 for each share of this article, up to a maximum of $1000, to Indivisible.org
Now go get some others engaged in active countermeasures along with you, and: use your words.