It seems like a lot of us follow Teri Kanefield here, so you may already know that she recently put up a very interesting post about Social Media.
Much of what the article contains information we already know, but she pulls it together neatly, all in one place. As she usually does!
- Democracy Needs a Functioning Public Sphere
- Social Media Can (and Often Does) Serve a Public Good
- Social Media In Its Current Form Amplifies and Enables Demagoguery
- Angry Divisive Content Gets More Engagement
- Twitter Algorithms Help Large Accounts Grow Larger, Further Incentivizing Rage-Inducing Material
- Pros and Cons of Post.news and Mastodon and How They Function
She defines she calls the Trust Building Technique, which is quite effective, even though it’s terribly dishonest. And she includes examples such as the Internet Research Agency and Cambridge Analytica.
Internet Research Agency (IRA) agents, posing as Americans, built trust in their American audience, then deployed payload content. Here’s an example of how it works: IRA agents posted Biblical verses on a page designed to attract White Evangelicals. White Evangelicals who were attracted to the site believed they were interacting with like-minded Americans. After building their trust, the IRA agents posted lies about Hillary Clinton.
To take another example, IRA agents carried on conversations that other users could see, pretending to be Americans discussing politics. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, IRA agents pretended to be Black Americans explaining to each other why Black Americans should stay home and not vote.
Of most interest to me – because that information was new to me – were her other Trust Building examples.
Person #1 gained a huge following on Twitter in 2015 as a staunch Democrat tweeting things like “Vote Blue No Matter Who.” After Trump was elected, his following increased when he declared himself a leader of the Democratic “resistance” on Twitter: A large loosely-organized group that opposed Trump. Person #1 was a compelling Tweeter and effectively dunked on Trump. As a result, his following grew to more than 350,000. He began monetizing his feed with podcasts and a Patreon account.
Then, about halfway through Trump’s term, he turned on Pelosi. He called Democrats “corporatists” and accused them of corruption. He encouraged his followers to abandon the Democratic Party. Because he had a large, influential account and was now Tweeting rage-inducing material, his account drew even more attention, thus driving the algorithms and increasing his reach.
Whether he deliberately built trust in his target audience with the goal of turning them against the Democratic Party, or whether he entirely changed his political views after building his audience, we’ll never know.
He continues monetizing his feed, now milking former Democrats who he has turned into angry, disaffected Democrats.
Person #2 did the same. She has a Ph.D. in anthropology (she is not a professor) and positioned herself as the single person who predicted Trump’s rise as an authoritarian. She amassed a large following on social media. (There were actual professors at major universities who had been predicting the rise of Trump as an authoritarian, but they were not on social media so she took all the credit.) Because she so effectively attacked Trump, Democrats loved her. She was invited onto TV shows.
Then she turned against the Democrats.
Personal encounter: When she turned on Nancy Pelosi in 2018 and accused Pelosi of taking Russian money, people on Twitter kept telling her she should read my feed because I had a different view of Pelosi. (I never talked to her or about her.) She responded by telling her hundreds of thousands of followers that I was a “faux expert” and a racist (she posted a screenshot of a tweet of mine out of context) and said I was in league with Stephen Miller.
She now tells her almost 600,000 followers that Merrick Garland is corrupt and compromised and is a “mafia state enabler.” She keeps her followers terrified, monetizes her feed, and turns on anyone who questions her. (I always felt there was an irony in the fact that she positions herself as an expert on authoritarianism.)
Person #3: About a year ago, a well-known fiction writer without any background in law or government began tweeting furiously that Merrick Garland was “refusing” to indict Trump. He now has more than 800,000 followers who repeat his assertions as if they are facts. (One time I tried to point out a factual error in one of his tweets. He responded by blocking me.)
Those of you who follow twitter more closely than I do, can you tell the rest of us who persons #1, #2, and #3 are? I understand why Teri Kanefield chose not to name names in her article, but I think we can surely name names, share more of the backstory, and call them out here.