Stories Poisoned To Spread Disinformation

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9 mins read

Image credit: Pixabay and EU vs Disinfo.

People love stories and sharing them with others. That’s what makes stories poisoned with disinformation so dangerous.

Tackle disinformation by training people to spot when they’re being manipulated – even when the storylines resemble fairy tales.

Once upon a Time, in a kingdom far, far away, a dragon was keeping the entire population hostage, poisoning it with its toxic breath. The people of the kingdom forgot everything that was important: values, decency, memories of the past. The dragon made people believe they were happy. A valiant prince did not succumb to the dragon; his people were immune against the dragon’s venomous exhalations. And while the dragon and his minions repeatedly attempted to defeat the prince, he managed to defend himself and lead the charge to liberate the people of the kingdom, far, far away.

“They’re destroying your legacy. The system is rigged. I’m so rich I can’t be bought. I’m going to drain the swamp. I’m going to make America great again.” Sound familiar?

Not all fairy tales end well

“A deranged mob of Americans, fueled by lies about election fraud peddled by the president of the United States along with multiple senators and House members, sacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as part of an insurrection encouraged by Donald Trump to stop the constitutional process allowing for the peaceful transfer of power taking place within the building. This was the catastrophic and prophetic culmination of the Make America Great Again myth.” – HuffPo

Disinformation exploits divisions and incites violence. It is a potent and deadly form of manipulation. How can more people be trained to spot disinformation and avoid being manipulated?

Disinformation exploits divisions and incites violence.

Why storytelling works

“We are all storytellers and perceive our lives as one long narrative. This means that we evaluate stories as being true or believable depending on the context in which the argument was made and received. That context is within ourselves. Everyone has built some sort of narrative during his or her own life. And each story that we see or hear will be weighed against a copious amount of other stories collected in the past. Two key factors determine if a story is likely to be believed and have people to act upon it.

Coherence. A person decides if a story is coherent by comparing it to their own story. If we feel like some elements do not belong in a story, such as a character that does not behave in a way that is consistent, it destroys the acceptance of the argument even if the argument is factually true. Even though a given message might be factually true — it does not mean that everyone will accept it as the truth. If the story somehow fits in our own narrative, chances are that we will embrace it more so than a collection of facts.”

Fidelity. How closely does the story match the receiver’s previous experiences, narratives, beliefs and values? Can I relate to this? Does the given story provide good reasons to hold a particular belief or take action?” – Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm

EU vs Disinfo

This blog abstracts “Storytelling the disinformation” by EU vs DisInfo, a project of East StratCom Task Force which addresses, and responds to the Russian disinformation campaigns. It aims to increase public awareness and understanding of the Kremlin’s disinformation operations, and to help develop resistance to digital information and media manipulation. Follow East Stratcom on Facebook and Twitter.

Storytelling the disinformation. Part I. Stories not facts.

1. The Premise: Stories not Facts

“People generally believe stories rather than facts. Kremlin disinformation tells a story to the audience about a society in peril, corrupt politicians and valiant hero – an attractive story that resonates with a large part of the audience. The basic structure of the story can easily be changed, certain elements can be emphasized, the story can be more or less complicated, but eventually the narrative remains the same. Any conflict, crisis or situation can easily be narrated along the same line. The narrative functions as a template, making production easy and the story attractive and engaging.”

Storytelling the disinformation. Part II. The threatened kingdom.

2. The Threatened Kingdom

“Creating an image of a society in flames, crime out of control, and incompetent politicians is an efficient way of creating rapport to the audience. Disinformation outlets hand out consistent stories and offer easy answers – do not trust your elected authorities and institutions; instead – look for inspiration at powerful aged leaders, able to take care single-handedly of your security and prosperity The stories stoke fears – horrors are always somewhere else, but might very soon spread to our own neighborhood. Unless of course you join the protest side.”

Storytelling the disinformation. Part III. The threatened values.

3. Threatened Values

“Russian media often refers to the other side as having lost its connection with the real values and abandoned the ideals of Christianity, Family and Patriotism.  This is a battle between them representing mankind’s heroic nature and others on the side of Liberalism, perversion and infanticide.”

Storytelling the disinformation. Part IV.  The forces of destruction.

4. Forces of Destruction

Disinformation outlets use conspiracy theories to back their narratives. Conspiracy theories can be reused with suitable villains to reach various audiences. When you can’t use existing parties as villains in a conspiracy, fantasy villains work just as well. One very popular villain is The Deep State or rulers behind the scenes. We might elect presidents and parliamentarians, but the real power lies somewhere else in the bureaucracyLiberals or George Soros.

Storytelling the disinformation. Part V. The helpless people.

5. Helpless People

“In the Kremlin’s worldview, people are a passive mass in need of guidance. Expressions of popular discontent are never genuine; they are always provoked, staged and managed by outside forces bent on destruction. Keep a tight control over media to manipulate audiences. Translation into fairy-tale language: And so they lived happily ever after.”

Storytelling the disinformation. Part VI. The hero.

6. The Hero

“All good stories need a hero, and it goes without saying that the hero is the author of the disinformation-laden story. The hero continues his valiant battle against dragons and evildoers everywhere. He will not rest until the villain is slain and the maiden is free.”

Takeaway: “Disinformation operatives create compelling stories featuring a hero, a villain and a victim. The casting of the roles of villains and victims are changed depend on the political objective. The story can have a happy ending or a tragic outcome, but its core elements will essentially be the same. The facts are irrelevant; the story is everything.

Disinformation is the new battlefield. Why fight when you can manipulate your adversary into fighting itself? Beware of fairy tales poisoned with disinformation.

Deepak
DemLabs


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