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.
In a critique of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal and corruption and censorship in Malaysia writ large, activist and artist Fahmi Reza posted a widely-circulated image of Najib as a clown on social media. Although the government arrested Fahmi in a bid to contain its proliferation, the meme nonetheless continued to gain traction, becoming a symbol of resistance that is still used to this day.
Following the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, 2020, allegations were circulated by his family and fans that his girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, had murdered him. Although his death was officially declared a suicide, this media spectacle not only increased confusion and distrust of the investigations but led to the arrest and harassment of Chakraborty.
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.
A misinfographic detailing supposed types of jihad spread from a conspiratorial Facebook page critical of Islam to the social and open web and eventually into the mainstream media when a major outlet aired a segment that included a version of the chart. Based on the evidence and pattern of activity, the amplification of the Islamophobic misinfographic was likely not an intentional campaign, but rather the result of the media cycle, prejudice, and political adoption.
In the spring of 2020, a viral slogan purporting that Muslims were purposely spreading COVID-19 in India was disseminated online using recontextualized videos. India’s ruling political party eventually adopted the term, allowing it to spread even further, leading to harassment before critical press and mitigation efforts by social media platforms dampened the campaign.