Propaganda is changing in a Digital Age. What once was a top-down effort to the masses has through the internet become a participatory affair. As people increasingly “plug-in” to online services, a wealth of personal data aggregated by internet giants facilitates the creation and distribution of tailored provocative messaging, which savvy propagandists then push through online communities to unsuspecting target audiences who help spread persuasive content further. In this dynamic information environment, audiences are no longer passive consumers of persuasive content. Instead, they are active agents who participate in its creation, spread and amplification, inadvertently furthering the agenda of propagandists whose messaging resonates with their world view. Propagandists achieve this through behavioural advertising, manipulating internet algorithms, targeting and provoking online echo chambers and communities, and winning traditional media coverage. Often such efforts blur the lines between what is real and what isn’t, when staged activities are obfuscated through astroturfing or botnet amplification to look like an authentic engagement by ordinary users. These methods, alongside the pervasiveness of modern communications in our lives, create ample opportunities for skilled propagandists to set agendas for and influence national political dynamics or policy choices.  This chapter explores the emergence of participatory propaganda, drawing from a model first identified during the US 2016 presidential election and subsequently found in online political activity in the UK and Canada using social network and content analysis.

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Source Publication

Wanless, Alicia, and Michael Berk “The Audience is the Amplifier: Participatory Propaganda”. In The SAGE Handbook of Propaganda by (Eds) Paul Baines, Nicholas O’Shaughnessy & Nancy Snow. London: Sage, (2019). p. 85-104

Cover Image: Recycling propaganda poster, Polish reading “Another collects stamps, and I collect waste, 1960s by Waldemar Swierzy

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About Author

La Generalista is the online identity of Alicia Wanless – a researcher and practitioner of strategic communications for social change in a Digital Age. Alicia is the director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. With a growing international multi-stakeholder community, the Partnership aims to foster evidence-based policymaking to counter threats within the information environment. Wanless is currently a PhD Researcher at King’s College London exploring how the information environment can be studied in similar ways to the physical environment. She is also a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and was a tech advisor to Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. Her work has been featured in Lawfare, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, and CBC.

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