How states fight and control social media propaganda


The world has changed unimaginably over the past decade, with trust in state-owned media declining in all countries. The word “state” should not be misleading here, in the same America all more or less prominent business publications are considered as such, since they follow the political agenda and often do not have their own independent opinion. The public is told what previously could not even be imagined in a nightmare, which further destroys the perception of traditional media. One of the latest examples in a long list is the words of Forbes editor-in-chief Randall Lane, read them: “Forbes magazine will consider the data of those companies that will hire the staff of the administration of the incumbent US President Donald Trump as a lie. If in the past some White House secretaries left office with spotless reputations and earned millions by applying their skills and trust in business America, now this cannot be allowed. Trump’s liars don’t deserve the same golden parachute. Let the business world know: hire any of Trump’s storytellers and Forbes will consider everything your company says a lie. ”

Have you read it? The editor-in-chief of a business publication, in front of an astonished public, is censoring and threatening an unlimited number of companies, as well as PR specialists who worked for the Trump administration. In fact, he claims that he will “kill” any company simply for the fact that they will hire this or that person. The temptation to shoulder the burden of a judge is so widespread these days that others are judged by all and sundry. The owners of social networks are blocking the pages of the current president of the United States, without having any legal basis. People who call themselves journalists act in favor of certain political forces. About how the Internet has changed, we discussed with you quite recently, I recommend reading this material.

There can be no emptiness in the information field, traditional media, which for the most part have ceased to satisfy the concept of quality, are losing their audience and influence. In their place have been social media, which have taken off on an unprecedented scale in the past decade. Donald Trump won the previous election thanks to social media, this fact is undeniable, and therefore he is so severely restricted in access to them today. The beauty of social networks, unlike media, is that the information in them is not verified in any way, and individual users can say whatever they want. Commercial companies were the first to realize this, in the media they had restrictions in promoting their products, they could not scold competitors, but there were no such rules of the game in social media. Bloggers on their own behalf could declare whatever they wanted and did not bear any responsibility for it. Fueled by advertising budgets quickly transformed social media into a Wild West world. Companies that were scrupulous about ethical principles quickly lost ground, because competitors did not limit themselves in the choice of tools. For example, five years ago I attended one of the conferences dedicated to SMM practices, it was held in one of the luxury hotels in New York. A huge network agency operating all over the world told how easy it is to drown any manufacturing company. For this, it is enough for people to start writing on social networks that after using the product of company X they got into trouble. Moreover, SMM specialists argued that it is possible to convince the company itself that they have such a problem, although it does not exist in nature. Knowing well how the mechanisms for assessing problems within corporations are arranged, what is the speed of decision-making, they sold their knowledge and explained that they would take on all ethical experiences. From time to time I wanted to pinch myself on the leg, turned to my colleague and asked: “I definitely heard this now, what did they say?”. No details, but behind the described scenarios it was easy to guess the events that had already happened or happened a little later.

The development of the Internet and social networks has made it possible to form an information agenda for ordinary people, when the necessary messages are promoted by bots, SMM specialists and the technique of such promotion, including the entire toolkit, is quite inexpensive. The first in this field were commercial companies, but then states came there, which began to actively use social networks for propaganda, promoting the necessary ideology, including for all kinds of color revolutions. Theories of using social media to achieve political goals were actively developed in America in the early 2000s, and practical tools were ready by the end of the first decade. I advise you to read the book by Clay Shirky “Everybody Comes Here, the Power of Organizations without Organizers”, in it outside the academic environment the influence of social networks on certain patterns of behavior is systematized. The book is funny, although it lacks academicism.

The protests in Iran in 2009 can be considered the first full-scale tests of social networks, but they went unnoticed by the general public and were not widely discussed. Then there was a revolution in Tunisia, at the end of 2010, political and economic problems broke out, the beginning of the revolution was the self-immolation of a street fruit vendor, it happened on December 17. In early January, the entire country is in flames, and Facebook is used to coordinate the actions of the protesters. In the West, what is happening is called a cyber revolution, the intensity of passions is supported by the publication of documents on the corruption of the ruling elite, and Wikileaks becomes the source of the documents. Before us is a revolution created from the outside, but according to new patterns, where the Internet is becoming a cheap and simple way to swing the situation, direct the crowd in the right direction.

In 2011, Egypt is next in line, where Twitter is used to coordinate the protesters, all events are labeled the Twitter revolution. The authorities are not only introducing an army into the streets of Cairo, but cutting off the Internet and mobile communications. This is also a sign of a new time, when social networks are used for momentary coordination, and governments are trying to turn them off. This automatically increases the value of social networks for citizens, since turning off means that they write something interesting and correct there, otherwise why turn them off?

In some ways, the development of social networks can be compared to a weapon of attack, for propagandists of all stripes this is an ideal tool, and America is the first to master these opportunities at the state level, widely using them around the world. Disabling social networks cannot achieve any intelligible result; other states are looking for other ways to resolve the issue of implanting someone else’s ideology. In this aspect, it looks very funny and curious that American social networks are beginning to label state media and everyone whom they consider employees of such media. With one caveat, the media of other states, for example, China or Russia, receive labeling, while their own media and allies’ accounts do without labeling. This is a clear manipulation, in which they try to reduce the influence of other people’s social media, to limit them as much as possible.

How states fight and control social media propagandaHow states fight and control social media propaganda

You can read the rules of the same Twitter regarding labeling here.

Look at the BBC, there is no indication that this is a government publication. It’s from the UK though, and it’s a state-owned broadcasting corporation!

How states fight and control social media propaganda

But in war, all methods are good for achieving superiority, and therefore it is different. Within the UK, the BBC’s independence has long been questionable, as has criticism of the BBC’s policies.

In 2016, there was an attempted military coup in Turkey, some army generals took part in the seizure of power, and there were battles. Television was taken under control, social networks were turned off. Erdogan went on the air of social networks at night and called on the people and loyal parts to resist, called things by their proper names. In fact, we can say that the Internet played an important role in the events that took place in Turkey. And here we come to the dilemma of any modern state, including America, how to protect themselves and their citizens from propaganda on social networks, what tools need to be created for this. The American experience is unique, since corporations that own social networks have their headquarters on American soil and are participants in local political processes. But for the rest of the world, the set of tools is not so great, and here the Turkish experience can help us, which can be considered working at the moment.

How to control social media, Turkey’s experience

In Turkey, the state controls most of the media, but social networks have always fallen out of the control of the state, American IT corporations believed that they were above local laws. We observe something similar in Russia, the similarity of the situation is almost complete. In the summer of 2020, a law was passed in Turkey, which stated that any social network with more than a million users daily must open a representative office within the country. Refusal to subordinate in this case led to a ban on advertising of Turkish companies in such social networks, fines for the networks themselves, plus restrictions on access speed, which were regulated by local providers. Under the law, local offices of social networks will have to remove content that the Turkish authorities consider unacceptable, for this they will be given 48 hours, for refusing to remove the fine will amount to 700 thousand dollars. Also, the law, which came into force on October 1, 2020, states that all data of Turkish users must be stored internally.

At the time of the first discussion of the law in the summer of 2020, a huge number of dissatisfied voices were heard both inside Turkey and outside. The prevailing opinion was that Turkey will not be able to achieve any concessions and that Facebook is too big to back down. The analogies with Russia are so obvious that they are astonishing. For example, Turkish users have consistently argued that Turkey is too small for Facebook, Twitter and others for companies to fear losing this market, this is a tiny fraction of the money that American corporations receive. This is a convenient position for corporations when they are trying to neutralize local laws or movements that restrict their freedoms, but such reasoning has nothing to do with real life (in Russia they like to say so much about Apple that our country is insignificant for a company and can be ignored, on in fact, everything is exactly the opposite).

Many representatives of the Russian Internet business felt rejection from the whole situation, since the position of the same Facebook is much closer to them than the attempts of any state, they are simply on opposite sides of the barricades. But in the end, the law was passed in Turkey, and then something happened that changed everything.

Turkey has issued the first fines against social networks that did not open representative offices. Each fine exceeded a million dollars, but also the Turkish regulator said that in April the speed of access to violators will be reduced by 50%, in May – by 90%. Also, starting in January, a ban on advertising will be in effect, it will take effect immediately. The sanctions imposed by the Turkish government have had a miraculous effect on many players, for example, Facebook immediately changed its position. Google has declared its desire to comply with the new laws, as well as YouTube has separately appointed its representative in the country. So far Twitter and Pinterest are outlawed.

How did it happen that huge IT corporations, leaders in their segments, suddenly turned their attention to the “insignificant” market? The answer lies in the fact that the Turks put pressure on the most painful, money. Corporations can avoid censorship for as long as they want and offer their tools and networks to solve political problems, but they react painfully to the situation when their income is limited in visible markets. And therefore, they agree with all the rules of the game in order only to preserve the status quo that they have.

What does Turkey’s experience mean for Russia? This is an example of how local laws bring American IT companies out of the shadows, forcing them to play by local rules that are established within an independent state. And that this is possible, we have known for a long time, the same Google agreed with full control of search in China, did not leave this market. And from that moment on, we can assume that for all IT giants the old song was sung, they could not live as before. In Russia, this story repeats itself, and everything will be exactly the same, as the state begins to decide what is possible and what is not on social networks. And the way to the heart of Facebook, Google, Twitter and others is through how much money and how they can make in our market. During 2021, a number of laws will be adopted that will make the work of the same social networks transparent for the state in terms of advertising budgets. Of the pleasant innovations, I note that the state plans to adopt the Turkish experience, in particular, to introduce bans on advertising on social networks that do not have representative offices in Russia and do not pay taxes on these advertisements domestically. Someone will call it censorship, but I see it as the right step to whitewash this market, to make it more transparent. But I foresee that a huge number of those who live off SMM of any kind will protest against the new laws, call them cruel. The time of the Wild West has passed, now social networks will also be putting things in order, and what seemed impossible a few years ago will suddenly become commonplace. But for social networks, of course, this will mean the end of the freemen and the need to quickly respond to requests and be responsible for cleaning their Augean stables.

Are you in favor of state control over social networks, advertising in them and taxes that IT giants have to pay, or are there any objections?

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