Facebook and Twitter have refused to take down a misleadingly edited video posted by President Donald Trump. It shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeatedly ripping up a paper copy of Trump’s State of the Union address while he is honouring a military hero. This video is just an example of what experts started to call the largest disinformation warfare campaign in the U.S. history – the 2020 U.S. presidential election and Trump’s struggle for re-election.
By the time of his inauguration, Trump’s team has already spent $83 million on the re-election campaign. Disinformation has become a steady part of its arsenal. Altered videos represent only one of the techniques used by the vast coalition of right-wing media, outside political groups and freelance operatives, headed by Brad Parscale, the digital director of the campaign. Micro-targeting has become a central part of their strategy. This method slices up the electorate into distinct groups and approaches them with precisely tailored digital messages.
The campaign uses familiar themes, such as the threat of “illegal aliens”, corruption of the “swamp” and the “enemies of the people”. Thousands of ads and bots have also attempted to alter the American understanding of the impeachment proceedings. They show Trump as a heroic reformer fighting foreign corruption and the plotting Democrats. The campaign further relies on relativism, anonymous messages using peer-to-peer texting and fake local media sites. There are also traces of inspiration by the subversive tactics Russians used in 2016.
Although the disinformation tends to be primarily domestic, foreign influence has found its way in. Last week, a smaller Iranian network of accounts posing as U.S. liberals was removed from Facebook and Instagram. They were posting about U.S. politics and the elections in line with Iranian political interests and directly contacting Congressmen, public figures and journalists. Facebook has taken down a similar operation last year as well, which shows continuity in the Iranian narrative and their direct approach.
Facebook, Twitter and Google will have a crucial role in this race, providing platforms for efficient hyper-targeting. And it is not only Trump who acknowledges the power of these social media. The Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg has already surpassed Trump’s spending on Facebook ads. Both the domestic and the external efforts, as well as spending, can be only expected to escalate in the upcoming months.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Kristína Šefčíková
Photo credits: DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos
The text has not undergone language revision.