Oct 4, 2021
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Igor Ashmanov: Social media as a battlefield

Information attacks on your reputation can destroy everything that you have created over the years in a very short time.

The material was prepared on the basis of Igor Ashmanov’s speech at the eTarget conference.

The article discusses:

  • features of digital platforms

  • behavioral features of users subject to manipulation

  • behavioral features of manipulators

  • some techniques for manipulating user thinking

Who controls the mental space of the entire world?

A notice hung in an elevator or written on the pavement transforms physical media into platforms. If it were possible to paint an advertisement on the moon with a laser, it would become a platform with a gigantic audience on cloudless nights. Platforms are a service or place that has somehow gained a large audience and provides access to it on their own terms. Digital platforms operate according to certain rules: content and advertising moderation, anti-spam, and so on. Accordingly, with legal access, users are required to comply with these rules.

Types of digital platforms

Today, digital platforms are the basis for both business promotion and attacks on it. It is there that the creation and destruction of reputation, brand promotion, and political struggle take place. For reputation management, working on platforms is critical.

Currently, the main platforms for political propaganda, business promotion and attacks on it, development or destruction of reputation are social networks, video hosting sites and online media.

The platform itself has ample opportunities for manipulating information: it can provide access to whomever it wants, and not give access to others. Plus, a spammer or cheater can break into the platform and manipulate users against its will.

Social media is more credible

This happens because for users, social networks and Internet media are becoming the main occupation of the day and a source of information: people spend there 5-7 hours a day, and this time is growing. Most users don’t write anything, just read (or comment). However, they receive social media exposure several times a day and absorb meaning. At the same time, users consider social networks to be their intimate space, therefore, information from “friends” is trusted more than any official media. Because of this, people here are completely unprotected from manipulation.

Screenshot from the social media monitoring system Kribrum. Social media activity. Data as of February 2021.

What characterizes social media as digital platforms?

Mass Behavior Training… Social networks are constantly coaching users into a certain type of behavior, imposing new reflexes. This is how flash mobs develop the habit of massive automatic reactions. Participation in relay races, tests, games trains to follow the calls en masse. As a result, users, without noticing it, become participants in propaganda and information wars.

User segmentation. There is no single news feed: each user lives in his own individual information bubble, which is formed by the social network itself. Recommender services are offering more and more user-approved content. A feedback loop arises that unifies content and leads to increasing isolation of the user and user groups. In fact, social networks drive people into network loneliness, where they are either on their own or together with absolute like-minded people, which is very convenient for manipulation.

Misconceptions about the social landscape… The social structure is not visible from within the network itself, segmentation and encapsulation in unanimity interferes (we will talk about encapsulation below). It seems to people that everyone is discussing this topic, but in fact only their environment is discussing it. Moreover, the entire dense environment is on the same positions, and whoever disagrees is ousted from this segment by the social network or by like-minded people themselves. Refining takes place, the points of view are filtered out, the opinion becomes homogeneous.

Who or what dictates user behavior on social media?

The behavior of users in social networks has a number of features, and it should be noted that the users themselves do not feel and do not formulate them.

Friends create the illusion of friendship… It is impossible to have as many close friends as you have in friends on social networks. All the same, there are ill-wishers among them, indifferent, neutral people. Most people don’t understand this. Moreover, they do not realize that what their friends broadcast is most often not reliable information, but either a biased opinion or manipulation.

Content quality drops. The audience of social networks is already accustomed to short texts and remarks, has developed a clip consciousness. At the same time, the quality of the content of social networks is very low: most of the texts are tongue-tied, illogical, often full of absurdities. Moreover, people who write this way do not start writing differently (better), getting the reaction of more literate people to their posts. The quality is going downhill: more and more emojis instead of words, more and more short messages in instant messengers, video messages. An illustrative example is ClubHouse, where the discussion is not even recorded: users just “chatted and went their separate ways.”

Signs of declining social media content quality

Content lifespan is shrinking. On social networks, there is practically no convenient search, and the content quickly sinks down in the feed. So, any event in social networks and the media lasts no more than 4-5 days. In this case, the “lifetime” of a separate message (for example, about an event) is 4-5 hours. During this time, it receives 95% of the actions – comments, likes, reposts. To influence the audience on social networks, you need to do this within about half of this time – 2-3 hours. Otherwise, the impact will be lost in vain.

Negativity elicits the greatest response… Quiet, even communication is not enough, brawlers, quarrelsomers, negativists dominate. This is explained by the feeling of permissiveness, impunity due to virtuality, which removes the barriers of decency and politeness. But sometimes they praise those who entertain – show business, film and television.

And how do they behave on the other side?

We are talking about those who come to social networks not to spend time, but to work.

A new level of manipulation… In addition to ordinary people who are susceptible to the effects described above, professionals are actively operating in the network media. These are propagandists, spammers, sellers, scammers. Users do not yet have immunity to them, as, for example, to mail spam, which has been sent out for 20 years and to which a reaction has already been developed as to wiring. Seemingly living people roam the network, enter into a lively dialogue, and people are not yet accustomed to perceiving them as swindlers.

The variety of products offered. Due to the short lifespan of the content and the lack of search, users do not remember what happened six months ago, and even if they remember something, they will not be able to find it. This allows you to regularly push the same fakes, concepts, products, etc.

Technological system. There are well-developed and practice-tested technologies for delivering news and stuffing. For example, stuffing into a social network is then covered in the media, again returned to the social network in the form of a link to the media, and so on.

Active communities and services… All this creation of an informational background requires significant human and communication resources, and they are. There are entire networks of spammers and bots, for example, out of about 40 million Russian Twitter accounts, 3-4 million are active, 1.5 million are spammers and bots. Everyone knows about committed Western services and media, committed domestic media and other reputation management systems.

Encapsulation. What are Semantic Capsules?

Within social networks, groups with a homogeneous worldview are formed and encapsulated: childfree, feminists, conspiracy theorists, vegans, animal rights activists, etc. People become isolated in their picture of the world, adjust to a capsule with similar views and, as a result, become locked in their picture of the world.

In such a capsule, a closed, looped set of myths, memes, polemical techniques and arguments is created. The people in the capsule fiercely defend themselves against other people’s opinions and uncomfortable reality. Inconvenient statements are subjected to group defamation, their authors are blocked. They practice school raids into other people’s capsules and group attacks on their opinion.

Semantic capsule: distinguishing features

Thus, the social environment disintegrates into closed capsules, mental ghettos, whose members, in principle, do not communicate with other capsules and often do not even know about them. Closure is supported by positive feedback from other participants and the efforts of enthusiasts to clean up the mental space. A language is developed that allows you to differ from others and veil reality (words like victim blaming, slut shaming, gaslighting, body positive, etc.).

Dissent provokes violent reactions. If in another group an opinion is voiced that does not correspond to the picture of the world of this capsule, within a few hours several dozen supporters come there, who literally begin to fill up with comments – an ethical hysteria begins, which we will discuss in more detail below. At the same time, there is virtually no discussion: defending one’s opinion is reduced to shouting out a combat set of templates, an extreme narrowing of the subject matter and consciousness.

Effective manipulation technique: ethical hysteria

Ethical hysteria is a communication building technique based on accusing the opponent of unethicality. This is done by shifting values. For her, problems are used that really exist, but their meaning is exaggerated, exaggerated and / or turned into a fetish.

For example: “Do you disagree that ecology is most important? You are a scoundrel and a cannibal! ” In fact, ecology is, of course, important, but the right of people to work, to food, to quality medicine and treatment of diseases is much more important. As soon as such a substitution is made, something is declared the main value, and those who disagree will be attacked by ethical hysteria. Thanks to social media and other platforms, any user with the goal of causing trouble is free to throw an ethical tantrum and gain media visibility. And with it in his hands is a media-social gun, which can be directed at any opponent and destroy a career, reputation, business.

For example, at the University of Ottawa, a professor used the word “negro” when talking about linguistic reappropriation (reappropriation) of words by social groups. Black students were outraged, and the teacher invited them to come up with synonyms for the word to use in the discussion. For this, the professors were suspended from work, despite attempts by 34 other teachers to defend him. The students took advantage of the ethical hysteria: they announced that at this university they are constantly subjected to racial abuse, their training here is a real battle, etc.

The ability to cause trouble spins a spiral of silence because people are afraid to contradict a common point of view. For a long time it was impossible to say that you do not believe in global warming. Now one cannot help but believe in systemic racism.

Thus, ethical hysteria is an effective tool for gaining influence by shifting the priority of values ​​and constantly causing social troubles to opponents.


  • The digital environment is a battlefield for the user’s brain and mind. The network is operated by professionals who manipulate the mass consciousness.

  • The mass user does not feel manipulation, believes in friends, does not have immunity to network flash mobs and requests, does not use critical thinking.

  • Due to this, the network can easily build and destroy an image, brand, reputation.

  • Information attacks of various levels take place every day. It is necessary to learn how to manage online reputation and repel information attacks and do it constantly. The state is now engaged in political and legal cleansing of the Runet, but the private reputation of citizens and organizations must be protected with private funds.

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