This is how social media influencers spread propaganda – Some of the “unbelievably bad” methods

Entertainment and propaganda are seamlessly intertwined even in the digital age, states the doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. Recognizing the influence of information on social media and the digital propaganda spread there is increasingly important in Finland as well.

University of Helsinki doctoral researcher Nuppu Pelevina has studied how social media influencers, considered apolitical, have been harnessed to spread state propaganda. Adobe Stock

Knob Pelevina is a doctoral researcher in political history at the University of Helsinki. He has researched the role of social media influencers in state propaganda and especially examined the politicization of Russian and Brazilian social media influencers, who were considered apolitical.

– Even an incorrect message shared by a well-known person is easily perceived by followers as more reliable than others, Pelevina writes In an article published on the website of the University of Helsinki Propaganda has the face of an influencer.

– As professionals in strategic communication, influencers know how to persuade and at the same time make followers feel close and genuine.

Social influencers have “political potential”

According to Pelevina, influencers are often thought of as “youth idols” or even “harmless idlers”, although at the same time their growing influence can be perceived as threatening.

– Popular influencers practically have their own media, which they use to reach even a wider audience than mass media, especially among young age groups, Pelevina states.

Many influencers want to take a stand on themes they find relevant, even if they otherwise produce lighter content. According to Pelevina, the “political potential” of influencers has been noticed in the world in recent years.

Social influencers’ own genuine enthusiasm for social issues has been found to benefit those who want to spread their own propaganda.

– Random [vaikuttajien tuottama] political content does not arouse strong backlash, but the public may even expect opinions on current issues.

What is propaganda?

In his article, Pelevina reminds us that propaganda is not necessarily deliberately misleading, like disinformation, and it is not automatically false. Communication that is only one-sided from a point of view can also be considered propaganda.

What is essential in propaganda is its goal to get the public to change their thinking or actions. This can happen on social media, for example, with opinionated publications or memes.

– Although propaganda is often thought of in public discussion as specifically harmful content, it can be thought of as actions and artificial selections that both democratic and authoritarian states use, Pelevina clarifies.

However, propaganda does not always have a specific message, but its purpose can be to deepen confrontation and create chaos.

Examples of propaganda spread by influencers

Propaganda is traditionally divided into three categories based on how honest or open it is. In his article, Pelevina gives examples of propaganda types.

Among other things, in the country branding work of many countries, in addition to traditional celebrities, influencers are also used.

– This kind of brand ambassadorship can be considered white propaganda, Pelevina says, referring to the transparency of the origin and the positive nature of the message.

On the other hand, in gray propaganda, identifying the correctness or origin of the information can be more difficult.

– For example, many seemingly independent Chinese influencers who operate on Western platforms that are banned in China have connections to the Chinese state or state media, and the content they produce is in line with Beijing’s narratives.

– We will move to the side of black propaganda if influencers representing the Uyghur minority are used to cover up human rights violations against Uyghurs by the state.

Propaganda is not always obvious on social media either

According to Pelevina, for example, Russia’s means of influence are diverse in social media as well.

Although it is easy to identify the most blatant means as propaganda, such as the dance videos on Tiktok covered with Z symbols, which Pelevina found “unbelievably bad”, he reminds us that Russian social media influencers also know how to do more subtle work by, for example, trying to passivate their followers.

– For example, by emphasizing that politics is too difficult for the average person and that followers would be better off not interfering with it, or by reminding that there is a huge amount of disinformation circulating online, and nothing can be trusted, Pelevina states.

Source: Propaganda has the face of an influencer (Nuppu Pelevina, University of Helsinki)

The Russian propaganda video about “European Christmas” is confusing to watch. RT