We define media manipulation as the sociotechnical process whereby motivated actors leverage specific conditions or features within an information ecosystem in an attempt to generate public attention and influence public discourse through deceptive, creative, or unfair means. Campaigns or operations that engage in media manipulation may use several tactics, such as memes, viral videos, forged documents, or leaked information.
They are not exclusive to any actor or group, nor are they inherently good or bad. Activists, constrained by heavy censorship in traditional media, for example, may rely on media manipulation in the digital space to circumvent such information controls. However, extremists may likewise use the same platforms and tactics to mainstream hateful and dangerous speech. Furthermore, media manipulation is a broad term in that it can be used to define a variety of other terms, such as disinformation, information operations, or influence operations.
Note that media manipulation is distinct from media control, which occurs at the top-level by the state and private sector. Media control would instead refer to activity like ISP-level content blocking, government censorship agencies, media ownership, content filtering, or distribution and licensing regimes.