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Network PropagandaManipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics$

Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190923624

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190923624.001.0001

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(p.223) Part Three The Usual Suspects

(p.223) Part Three The Usual Suspects

Network Propaganda

Yochai Benkler

Robert Faris

Hal Roberts

Oxford University Press

In Part Two we covered the actions of what we perceived to be the primary actors of network propaganda and the American political media ecosystem more generally. Here, we turn to the primary culprits that have received more sustained public attention as the alleged causes of our present moment of information disorder. In Chapter 7 we briefly consider the argument that alt-right activists hacked the media ecosystem by inserting various destructive memes into the mainstream media that helped Donald Trump win the election. There has been excellent work focused on the alt-right, on Reddit and 4chan, aiming to document the efforts of these communities to propagate their views across the media environment. Here, we offer a brief case study where that pathway in fact succeeded, and we offer it as an example of what we call the propaganda pipeline—the path from the periphery to the core through a series of well-known amplification sites, most prominently Infowars and Drudge. That said, we argue that the pipeline, while real, was not as important as the intentional efforts of larger, more central propagandist media, and indeed, depends on those media’s willing adoption of the memes generated on the periphery to have a broader impact. In Chapter 8, we spend a good bit of time assessing the evidence of the existence, pathways, and impact of Russian information operations. In Chapter 9, we conclude with considering the three main threats related to Facebook: Facebook microtargeting and dark ads, Cambridge Analytica, and commercial clickbait factories. We explain why we think that the behaviorally informed, microtargeted dark ads are likely the most important novel threat to democratic practice independent of the overall architecture of the media environment, but caution that there is no evidence that they have already played the role that they hypothetically could play. We also suggest that both the Cambridge Analytica and commercial clickbait threats were overstated. (p.224)