How Russian Trolls Are Adapting Cold War Propaganda Techniques to Twitter
A Russian troll farm spread disinformation in the mold of classic, Cold War-era propaganda campaigns.
Photo via TechStream/The Brookings Institution
When American propagandists beamed broadcasts beyond the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War, the message was in part exactly what you’d expect. “Keep up your hope,” an announcer said in Czech in one such broadcast. “For the Communists will be driven from our homeland and freedom will yet prevail.”
But the program also included lighter material: Listeners were treated to music banned across much of the Soviet Union, such as jazz or local folk songs, followed by a news broadcast.
Funded by the U.S. government, Radio Free Europe and its sister station Radio Liberty used a tactic called pre-propaganda, which refers to propaganda not directly related to the political message of the propagandist. It lays the groundwork for more overt propaganda through audience-building and myth-making — in this case, using jazz as an on-ramp to sell the American way of life.
More recently, the tactic has been adopted by Russia in its efforts to meddle in American politics. By pushing stories from a diverse body of outlets and posting material on different platforms, Kremlin propagandists adapted the concept of pre-propaganda in their efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, according to a recent study by researchers at the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University, which harvests social media data to study political attitudes and behavior online. The study’s findings show how states are adapting classic propaganda tactics to social media, and why policymakers must consider how information spreads across platforms to protect voters from these covert campaigns.
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