The Russians are disinformation grandmasters. Learn how to guard against them by studying how they’re being used in American politics.
Learn how these moves are used to dodge questions with counter-accusations, use what-about-ism to justify terrible acts and distract people from real problems by inflaming resentments. This blog reviews nine moves with examples of how these moves have been used to justify the Jan 6th attack on the Capitol and accuse your opponents of being socialists and eating children.
Deflect attention from an unpleasant issue with “What-aboutism”. The trick is to respond to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue. “An old joke 50 years ago was that if you went to a Stalinist and criticized the Soviet slave-labor camps, the Stalinist would say, ‘Well what about the lynchings in the American South?’” said philosopher Noam Chomsky.
“Not only does it help to deflect your original argument but it also throws you off balance,” says Alexey Kovalev, an independent Russian journalist. “You’re expecting to be in a civilized argument that doesn’t use cheap tricks like that. You are playing chess and your opponent — while making a lousy move — he just punches you on the nose.” – WaPo
“Russian military shot down a passenger plane? “Well, what about all the aircraft the US has shot down?”
“Demonstrators detained in Russia? “What about the persecution of the participants in the peaceful protests in Washington, January 6?”
“Putin’s a killer,” Bill O’Reilly. “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?” Trump.
“Rioters attacked the Capitol on Jan 6th” “Well, what about the ANTIFA protestors” – Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
“Resentment, is a deliberate move to distract the public from current problems. Any excuse for a grievance will do. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unanimously recommended Russia to be banned for four years from major sports events. The Russian Anti-Doping watch-dog has accepted the claims that Russian athletes have been subject to a systematic state-sponsored doping program. Yet pro-Kremlin media spin the news as a politicized attack on Russia: WADA’s decision is “illegal“; it violates the Olympic charter; it represents “anti-Russian hysteria” and Norwegian athletes are doping too, but never punished. Instead of addressing the issue, the Kremlin prefers expressing umbrage.” – EUvsDisinfo
Russia on ‘Threatened values’. Russians discredit liberal Western attitudes about the rights of women, ethnic and religious minorities and LGBTI groups. The “effeminate West” is rotting under the onslaught of decadence, feminism, homosexuality and “political correctness”, while Russia defends traditional family values.
Republicans: “Matt Krause (R-TX) promised to introduce a bill in 2021, the next time the state legislature will be in session, to bar minors from using puberty blockers, a gender-affirming medical treatment that allows transgender kids to temporarily postpone puberty so they have more time to explore their gender identity. Rep. Steve Toth (R-TX), vowed to introduce legislation that would criminalize parents who allow their child to transition.” – Mother Jones
Claim fraud if you lose an election to question the results and challenge the legitimacy of the winner. This play also works well when used with the ‘Resentment’ play below.
“Russian media accuses zombie voters and rigged processes as an excuse for any losses and challenge the legitimacy of the winner. Russian state TV declares, entirely without foundation, that 1.8 million dead voters took part in the election. Russian state radio notes that the US cannot be called a democracy and that the trade union of US mail employees supported Joe Biden and were hence prone to falsifying votes delivered by mail. RT openly suggest the entire process was “rigged”. – EUvsDisinfo
Russia: “All fakes will be disclosed and the Biden team will be caught cheating, red handed, and Donald Trump triumphantly installed for a second term as president.” – EUvsDisinfo
Republicans: “For his entire political life, Mr Trump has used bogus claims of vote rigging and election fraud to explain defeats or anticipated defeats. He has consistently undermined the integrity of American democracy in the service of protecting his ego. During his successful 2016 presidential run he made frequent unsubstantiated claims of vote rigging against his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and even his rivals in the Republican primaries. “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified,” Mr Trump wrote following his defeat to the Texas senator in 2016. – Independent
Use insults to attack your opponent and disrupt civil discussion. Russian media will defame critics. Putin’s political rival Navalny is demonized and blatant lies are spread about Greta Thunberg being the love-child of a Russian film director and a prostitute. – EUvsDisinfo
“One of the defining aspects of President Trump’s tenure in office is his willingness — his eagerness, really — to grab his phone and tweet something insulting about someone he doesn’t like. Twitter is where most of his insults live. I picked out more than 30 of the president’s favorite insults and, using the New York Times’ list of Twitter insults and the comprehensive database at Trump Twitter Archive.” – WaPo
Russians: Share blatant lies about Greta Thunberg being the love-child of a Russian film director and a prostitute. – EUvsDisinfo
Republicans: Not only did Trump often refer to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” during the primaries, he also falsely accused Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, of being a close associate of John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Trump also had no problem insulting the looks of Cruz’s wife, Heidi. – HuffPo
A big lie is a propaganda technique to spread a lie so “colossal”, no one would believe that anyone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. Big lies have big divisive power. – EUvsDisinfo
Timothy Snyder reflected on the storming of the Capitol and the power of lies. The scheme starts with sowing distrust of journalism, experts and government agencies including everyone from vote counters, to homeland security and the Supreme Court. Whoever does not support the lie, must be part of the conspiracy. Conspiracy theories on the “Deep State” and “Shadow Government” are presented as facts.
Russia: Russian media called Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as “the monkey vaccine suggesting that the British vaccine will turn people into monkeys.
Republicans: Trump Claimed Election ‘Rigged’ Or ‘Stolen’ Over 100 Times Ahead Of Capitol Riot and whipped up distrust of U.S. democracy, the media and his own vice president in tweets and speeches leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. The Justice Department and election officials nationwide rejected such claims, stating there was no evidence of fraud or irregularities that would have overturned the election results. Nonetheless, Trump falsely declared victory at least 40 times, claiming he won in a “landslide.” – HuffPo
The straw man move is to falsely claim your opponent is for something most people hate, while you are with the people. The straw man is made up to suit the group you are trying to get to vote for you. When in doubt claim that your opponent is against motherhood, apple pie and kicks puppies.
“Republicans believe they have hit on a bold, brand new line of attack. The big plan is to attack Democrats as socialists. Trump made it a central point of his State of the Union. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, promises to bring this fresh hit in his party’s effort to regain control of the House.” – HuffPo
Russia: The European Union (EU) is fascist, but Hitler isn’t. Russia claims to be heroic and fighting fascism while the EU supports facism. – EUvDisinfo.
Republicans: Senator Kelly Loeffler running for reelection in Georgia falsely claimed that her opponent, Reverend Raphael Warnock, is a socialist. – VietFactCheck
Use hyperboles (crazy stories) “to flood the zone” and shrink the free brain space voters have for the facts. A massive number of stories are released to overload people so they have less time for critical thinking. Use outlandish, emotional content as people are more likely to click on it. This sends people down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and consumes their attention span.
Russia: “Just why exactly is Melinda Gates wearing a Satanic upside-down crucifix?” Fort Russ News with a strong pro-Kremlin agenda.
Republicans: “Top Democrats molest children, kill and eat their victims to extract a life-extending chemical called adrenochrome. Trump was recruited by top military generals to run for president in 2016 to break up this criminal conspiracy and bring its members to justice.” – According to QAnon lore in NYT.
Sometimes facts can be disinformation. Taken out of context, a quote, a number, a statement or a picture can be deceiving, while factually correct. Lies work more effectively, when they are supported by something factual; something real, something true.
Selective, manipulative, reporting can be just as deceptive as blatant lying. For instance, a large-scale vaccination project with hundreds of thousands simultaneously getting an injection will always cause unwanted effects. The pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem selects isolated incidents and conjures an image of a major disaster.
Russia: Exaggerates reports on facial paralysis in Israel where the Pfizer vaccine has been give to around 2 million people. They describe the 13 individuals, suffering a mild and temporary side effect as getting the “Shot of Death”. – EUvsDisinfo
Republicans: “Have been quick to condemn antifa as chaos erupts at various protests across the country, despite scant evidence to support their claims. Donald Trump has focused more on the scattered reports of violence and looting among the crowds and has cast blame for the destruction on antifa. It’s not the first time Trump has summoned antifa to distract from a major news event.” – America Independent
Claim that you are the real victim, so you just cannot be the culprit. This self-victimization allows the Kremlin to manipulate the public and evade responsibility for its aggressive foreign policy. This culture of resentment deliberately distracts people from their every day problems. – EUvsDisinfo
Russia: State-sponsored media falsely claims that NATO is preparing a big war and surveys show that 42 percent of Russia’s population is constantly afraid of a world war.
Republicans: Trump warns GOP on immigration: ‘They’re taking your jobs’ – WaPo
“We’re all victims,” Donald Trump claimed at his first rally after the presidential election, on Dec. 5 in Georgia “We’re all victims. Everybody here. All these thousands of people here tonight. They’re all victims. Every one of you.” – MSN
Much of the information in this blog is abstracted from EUvsDisinfo, a project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force. EUvsDisinfo was established in 2015 to increase public awareness and understanding of the Kremlin’s disinformation operations, and to help citizens in Europe and beyond develop resistance to digital information and media manipulation.
Takeaway: Don’t be out-played. Learn Russian disinformation tactics and how to defend against them.
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