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Weaponised Narratives and Foreign and Domestic Sources of Political Influence

Cyber Politics
Social Media
Big Data
Michael Jensen
Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra
Michael Jensen
Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra
Char Sample
Capitol Tech Uni

There is a question as to whether and how organized foreign influence activities impact domestic political events in target countries. While intelligence agencies have raised significant concerns the Russian intervention in the US election, social scientist argue that both domestic political figures and media outlets played a larger role in shaping political discourse. To determine the roles domestic political and media figures versus Russian efforts, the diffusion of four narratives – two of which were created by domestic political actors and two by Russian actors – are studied. Russian efforts narratives are operationalized as specific narratives which originated with communications verified as parsed from Wikileaks dumps originally by Internet Research Agency sockpuppet (“troll”) accounts and two which were developed by the Trump campaign or its surrogates. The data analysis tracks the diffusion of each narrative over the week in which it was created and the last week of the election across Facebook comments on the pages of Clinton and Trump and the Twitter stream of election-related tweets from 2016. It tracks the propagation of these narratives in relation to news organizations, blogs, and candidate speeches and social media communications and their role in promoting paralysing, confusing, subverting, blackmailing, and demoralising. The theoretical contributions of the paper will document the relevance of elite communications in the diffusion of these narratives and the structure and temporalities of influence networks. It will help unpack influence processes not only in terms of the encounter with communications but the normalization of narratives through repetition. In practical terms, it will determine whether Russia’s weaponized narratives played a decisive role in structuring the narratives which were diffused throughout the campaign or whether domestic and political actors were more influential.
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