Society Burning: Tactical Assessment

The Social Media Intelligence Unit, a project of civil society organisation Alliance For Europe established in early 2019, has published new research identifying intrusion into the global Black Lives Matter movement.

The “Society Burning: Tactical Assessment” states organised actors are using social media to paint a picture of “Marxist subversion of the American dream” by the protest group in order to generate support for the re-election campaign of US President Donald Trump.

  • The Black Lives Matter movement is achieving some success through the use of Twitter but this is self-limiting due to audience type, audience size, and audience selection – it is effectively mobilising the already engaged rather than changing minds. The scale of influence is often misinterpreted due to the nature of the platform content and its relationship with a media chasing trends.
  • There are signs of entryism (through co-concurrent topics) into the Black Lives Matter narrative and it has become caught in social media and offline crossfire between Antifa and white supremacist or accelerationist groups including the “Boogaloo Boys.”
  • Black Lives Matter is also successfully being painted as a “Marxist take-over” of the USA by Trump surrogates, though this narrative tactic dates back to the alt-right campaign against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats which was in operation between 2016 and 2018.
  • Influential conservative campaigns, including Trump 2020 are still utilising the trust capital of Facebook to seed, reinforce, and electorally capitalise upon public support amongst the demographics which are less likely to protest but more likely to vote. They are pushing the “Marxism” message. Offline conversations show that this strategy is succeeding in changing minds, even in a landscape where this should be unlikely to succeed.
  • The “Defund The Police” campaign is also being used by the Trump campaign and its supporting network to secure the well-established Law and Order vote ahead of the November election.
  • The shape of the Twitter conversation relating to Black Lives Matter is, notably, gender balanced.
  • Antifa have adopted a responsive strategy to grow their online audience, while implementing a control strategy to limit the impact of fake Antifa accounts and provocateurs
  • The strategies being deployed across Black Lives Matter and right-wing digital campaigns share common features with the tactics which grew from GamerGate in 2013.
  • Europe does not feature heavily in the global online data, which is unsurprising given the core dynamic of US civil rights stems from the British/American slave trade.

The intelligence unit monitors a curated landscape of social media accounts across platforms, creating actionable insights from millions of interactions each day. The project is seeking funding partners to achieve coverage for the full EU 27 over the next 12 to 18 months.

The tactical assessment is the first extensive topical publication by SMIU – led by a group of specialist analysts with skills ranging from deeply technical to source intelligence handling.

Managing Director of Alliance for Europe, Omri Preiss, said: “The SMIU’s focus is on real-time actionable insights which can be used to amplify civil society voices online We saw a necessity to publish our findings more widely in order to hopefully spark some positive acton to redress this in the US and in Europe. This is a global conversaton with impact and relevance for democracy the world over, including in Europe. Our goal is to create a more inclusive democratic debate and counter disinformation and hate speech.”

“We are not a report-led operation. Our focus is on real-time actionable insights and highly specialised training of our client-partners in digital strategic communications. Reports of this type are often diversionary or counter-productive and some are purely marketing devices. On this occasion, however, we saw a necessity to disseminate our findings more widely in order to hopefully spark some corrective action. We are a not for profit. Our role is to level the playing field for civil society every day and we take that responsibility very seriously. If that means stepping away from our standard operating procedures occasionally to further the public interest, we will,” he added.

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The report highlights a distortion in public perception caused by social media, which can make the success of campaigns appear larger than they are in reality. Black Lives Matter has managed to spark protests in 4,140 cities, drawing in engaged activists, but this only represents low percentage of Twitter’s 145 million daily users and the group is significantly outperformed among Facebook’s 2.6 billion users in terms of both audience size and interaction rates.

James Patrick, SMIU’s specialist consultant who authored the report said: “Influential conservative campaigns, including Trump 2020, are still utilising the trust capital of Facebook to seed, reinforce, and electorally capitalise upon public support amongst the demographics which are less likely to protest but more likely to vote. They are pushing the “Marxism” message. Offline conversations show that this strategy is succeeding in changing minds, even in a landscape where this should be unlikely to succeed. Black Lives Matter is also successfully being painted as a “Marxist take-over” of the USA by Trump surrogates, though this narrative tactic dates back to the alt-right campaign against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats which was in operation between 2016 and 2018.”

“The “Defund The Police” campaign is also being used by the Trump campaign and its supporting network to secure the well-established Law and Order vote ahead of the November election,” he added.

The report highlights that a single post of President Trumps could have been amplified to over 46 million Americans due to the algorithmic functions, even though it only received 46,000 comments.

The post, liked over 254,000 times, read: “NYC is cutting Police $’s by ONE BILLION DOLLARS, and yet the NYC Mayor is going to paint a big, expensive, yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, denigrating this luxury Avenue. This will further antagonize New York’s Finest, who LOVE New York & vividly remember the horrible BLM chant, “Pigs In A Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon”. Maybe our GREAT Police, who have been neutralized and scorned by a mayor who hates & disrespects them, won’t let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York’s greatest street. Spend this money fighting crime instead!”

SMIU goes beyond social media, using human intelligence sources to give more depth to its analysis.

“Liberal voters for the democrats in “blue states” including California have accepted that Black Lives Matter is an organisation with Marxist objectives and has left Democrat voters from the ages of 35 to 65 feeling they will have no choice but to vote Republican in order to prevent a “communist takeover” of the United States. The legacy of the Cold War is an under-considered factor. Further, sources indicate the embattlement of the law enforcement community is having the effect of driving not only serving and retired law enforcement officers and their family networks to vote Republican but is also starting to push other emergency service workers and even victims of crime who have been treated well by the police the same way,” the report warns.

Deeper technical analysis by SMIU’s Task Force dip sampled 1.1 million tweets, focusing on Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the accelerationist group Bugaloo Boys. This sampling showed that accounts featuring #MAGA in their profiles were more openly politicising Black Lives Matter, using it as a wedge issue to encourage Trump voters. Fake antifa accounts including Amish Antifa and Kekistan Antifa make appearances in the network analysis, along with Qanon conspiracy networks posting child sex trafficking conspiracies, linking the Epstein scandal with the Clintons.

According the report, Antifa activists have been “taking a reactive approach to right wing media news cycles in an immediate and focused way allowed the group to successfully build on, manipulate, and grow trends in such a way as to dominate the algorithmically boosted conversation.” The tactical assessment warns that the Black Lives Matter movement is being used as an Influence Operations battleground on a number of levels, from grassroots groups to major political campaigns.

Source intelligence reveals a successful operation by Antifa in Seattle to prevent the establishment of fake Antifa accounts. The report states: “Handles using the term CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) were created by members to prevent opposition from being able to build a large and easy to find disinformation platform. Only one account was able to gain a foothold as a hostile info operation with any real reach.”

Society Burning concludes with extracts from an Alt-Right tradecraft manual, which highlights how campaigns are borrowing from the tactics or GamerGate, with a particular focus on flooding social media with information and relying on the news outlets and journalists to amplify narrative messaging and disinformation.

“The trick behind the painting of a narrative is slandering the opposition into submission; threatening or making examples by ruining people’s careers and personal lives all while holding the card of righteous indignation. They figured out ways to beat the opponent, like mailing campaigns to advertisers of media and dragging the media to journalistic authorities,” the MAGA3X strategy states, adding instructions for activists to: “Call radio stations, send in opinion pieces to local news sources. Make sure all points relate to regional politics, economy, people etc.”

SMIU’s specialist consultant James Patrick said: The strategists behind the right-wing campaign recognised at an early stage it would be easy to drive a coach and horses through scrutiny and opposition by adopting the approach of being unbound to one narrative, not adhering to a single set of rules, and to not persisting with any given operation for a prolonged period. “Pivot” became the central tactical pillar and was combined with flooding the information landscape with a shrapnel made of nonsense to occupy resources.”

Society Burning contains a crash course in surviving what it calls “weaponised social media” and gives advice to individuals, the media, and corporations, highlighting how they are left open to influence operations and reputational risk through over-exposure to the trend cycle. “Detach, Digest. Disarm,” the advice states.

ENDS.

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