Using the Life Cycle of Media Manipulation, each case study features a chronological description of a media manipulation event, which is filtered along specific variables such as tactics, targets, mitigation, outcomes, and keywords.
After military conflict broke out in the Tigray region of Ethiopia in November, 2020, two contesting narratives designed to influence international understanding of the conflict emerged, playing out largely on Twitter. Based on several months of data collection and mixed methods research, we trace the tactics of the two key online communities participating in these outward-facing advocacy campaigns: the Ethiopian government and its supporters, and Tigrayan activists and their supporters.
During the Oregon wildfires of September 2020, rumors spread locally and nationally that left wing activists had intentionally set the fires based on a series of misidentifications and inference by public officials. The rumor was amplified from partisan influencers on the far right, fake antifa Twitter accounts, anonymous trolling communities on 4chan, the QAnon conspiracy network, and late stage attention from President Trump.
In 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a network of Twitter accounts that had previously posted narratives friendly to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) switched their messaging to focus on the pandemic, attempting to portray government actions in response to the pandemic in a more positive light. The accounts, many of which exhibited the hallmarks of automation and inauthenticity, were also linked to a public relations firm in China.
During the active crisis of the Parkland school shooting in February 2018, a photo misidentifying the alleged perpetrator moved from 4chan to the mainstream media when Infowars picked up the image, muddying the waters around the actual shooting. The misidentification led to targeted harassment of the individual in the photograph, who was not associated with the shooting.
Over the course of 3 years, a mix of pranksters and extremists (right wing) launched a butterfly attack campaign as part of a meme war to muddy the waters in an organic Black Twitter hashtag, and utilized digital blackface to amplify memes workshopped on 4chan. Overall, the campaign targeted Black activists and communities online in an effort to sow confusion, discredit authentic support, and suppress voter turnout for the Democratic Party. This campaign was redeployed several times to correspond to cultural trends or breaking news events.