[This essay was written about 1 1/2 years ago. It is still applicable today, maybe even more so. Black propaganda campaigns today seem to be far less covert than they used to be. Nowadays lies are screamed at top volume on FOX, OANN, Newsmax and other blatant propaganda operations—and they make plenty of money from these lie campaigns. But the principles of countering and rendering these campaigns moot are the same.]
We have evolved from high school kids passing notes or whispering to each other in hallways, from neighborhood women gossiping over the back fence to office water-cooler intrigue. But not that much, at least in mentality.
According to the Urban Dictionary, the definition of Whispering Campaign is
“A method of persuasion in which damaging rumors or innuendo are spread about the target, while the source of the rumors seeks to avoid being detected while spreading them (for example, a political campaign might distribute anonymous flyers attacking the other candidate). It is generally considered unethical in open societies, particularly in matters of public policy. The speed and anonymity of communication made possible by modern technologies like the Internet has increased public awareness of whispering campaigns and their ability to succeed. This phenomenon has also led to the failure of whispering campaigns, as those seeking to prevent them are able to publicize their existence much more readily than in the past. Whispering campaigns are defended in some circles as an efficient mechanism for underdogs to attack the powerful while lacking resources.”
Whisper campaigns—really an old black propaganda tool—take on a new velocity and intensity when propagated on social media and use the misplaced trust people give to “that cool meme I saw.”
Whisper campaigns are weapons in the hands of forces like the Internet Research Agency in Russia and the rabid lemmings of Qanon—in case anyone wonders, their motto of “where we go one we go all” is how lemmings reputedly commit mass suicide. But the purpose of whisper campaigns is pretty much unchanged: create outrage and use it to smear someone, something, an idea or principle, a brand, a (insert anything here)—you get the idea.
We see these around everywhere when we know what to look for. And once you know, you can do something really important: recognize the attempt to manipulate you and ignore it. Better yet, look a little deeper and see if you can find who paid for it. There is usually some kind of entity that benefits from the outrage generated.
On social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, the first step in realizing you are being manipulated is to recognize if you’re suddenly feeling pissed off or outraged about some subject.
You can also recognize other signatures like a “controversial” headline. And the next thing is a link to what looks like a reputable site for more information. But the name’s a bit off like Washington Times instead of Washington Post.
Okay, so now you see it for what it is. What do you do? The first thing I do is hit the little “3-dot” menu on Facebook for example and report that post as misinformation. This actually works.
If the offending post comes from a friend and you want to keep that friend, then just ignore it and even hide it from your feed if you like. Arguing, however much fun it may be at times, doesn’t really do much.
The fact is the person sending you the link already got duped and is showing that by forwarding it. Telling them they are wrong is the exact wrong thing to do. If you’ve got a fact that targets the false information in the article, respectfully let them know.
Major clue here. All whisper campaigns contain at lies and/or carefully altered facts.
The best thing to take the wind out of the sails of these campaigns is to not forward them. Like the chain letters of old, don’t be afraid to just toss it.
Encourage your friends to do the same and this weapon of mass disinformation can be made useless.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.