So you’re scrolling down your Facebook feed and there’s a post from someone you know that contains a well written but completely insane bunch of BS you know to be false. Your acquaintance swears by it and you wonder how he did his “research” to come up with these statements. Then you twig. He didn’t. It is a cut-and-paste someone else posted and before that someone else.
Remember the “human virus” chains on Facebook in earlier years—and that still happen today? Someone posts a regurgitated spam message saying something like, “Bill Gates will pay you $5 for every person you forward this to” or some variation thereof. More frequently today are messages like “Facebook is about to start charging you,” or “…I don’t allow Facebook to use any of my images, thoughts, ideas! And please share this to everyone you know and don’t know…” The latter is hilarious when you consider that when we signed up we all gave Facebook—and any other of the services we use—blanket permission to make as much money as they like from all the data we shove into their computers for free. Hell! We should be getting commissions—but that’s a different article.
The cut-and-paste propagandist is a particular kind of tool that paid propagandists are only too happy to have on hand.
For many years on social media, paid propagandists have been having a relatively unrestrained heyday. Recall back to the aftermath of the 2016 election, where segments of the electorate were being polarized by the emergence of a real estate carnival barker. Operations like Cambridge Analytica and the Internet Research Agency, Russia’s “Troll Farm,” were running wild using data we had supplied against us and tipped the election to Trump. While Cambridge Analytica is dead and gone along with its parent company, the actual operators who did the work are still out there.
Russia’s Troll Farm continues to operate, churning out propaganda to support Putin’s on-going invasion and genocidal attack on Ukraine. And they are certainly involved in on-going influence operations toward the reelection of Trump and the persistent sabotage of government progress by Trump’s factions in Congress. If there was ever a group of people more susceptible to manipulation than the MAGA crowd, one would be shocked. Just about every statement out of their mouths is actually a propaganda line that has been fed to them.
These campaigns were not ineffective. In regular conversation people have repeated propaganda lines fed out from Russia. “Russia is working to eradicate Nazis running Ukraine,” is one—which of course ignores the fact that their president is Jewish. The rumor of mobile bio-weapon labs is another. Not very original. That one was modeled after our own propaganda campaigns that whipped up support for our genocidal invasion of Iraq.
Other examples of online cut-and-past propaganda can be found in campaigns waged by corporate interests. An infamous one was Monsanto’s long operation to make any opponents of their GMO products and their Roundup herbicide products appear to be anti-science Luddites. Of course, Monsanto’s science was skewed in their favor and they used academic mouthpieces to make their campaign points.
A great example is the case of Professor Kevin Folta at University of Florida. Folta was a perfect template of the cut-and-paste propagandist. He would issue posts and comment on other people’s articles with direct Monsanto talking points. When he was accused of being a paid troll for Monsanto, he vehemently denied this. That didn’t go so well. A Freedom of Information Act request for his emails to the University of Florida revealed that he was receiving payments from Monsanto. So not only was he a liar, he was also a lazy propagandist.
Another example is the propaganda against electric cars, telling people the blatant lies that they are more harmful to the environment than gas-burners. That this is financed by oil companies—Koch Industries in particular—is obvious to many, but not others.
The hallmark of the cut-and-paste propagandist is laziness. Too lazy to actually digest and understand the issues they are forwarding and far too lazy to write something original.
We are about to be flooded with even more propaganda as we move into an election year of unparalleled stakes. Much of this will be the cut-and-paste variety from people we know and a lot from people we don’t.
Understanding what we are looking at is the first step, and perhaps the most important. Nothing takes the wind out of a propaganda operation’s sails than being laughed at and dismissed by the targeted publics.
One of our key defenses this coming year against voting our Republic out of existence—and yes the stakes are truly that high—is to recognize when attempts arrive to manipulate and capture our thought processes.
Engaging trolls can be fun. But like the signs in zoos that tell you not to feed the animals, don’t feed the trolls by responding to them. The simplest action to take when receiving any kind of propaganda is to delete it. If the source is continuous and egregious, block it.
So the next time you see what appears to be a well-written and thoughtful post from someone you know is not a professional writer and which seems off in some way, you are probably looking at cut-and-paste propaganda. The item resonated with that person—because someone matched it to their preferences and attitudes—enough for them to feel compelled to share it.
When you recognize cut-and-paste propaganda for what it is, the source has already lost the game. Hand them more losses.
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.