From election campaigns to the war in Ukraine, we have been observing the various techniques of public opinion manipulation used by multiple stakeholders. In the following series of articles, we will shed the light on each of these strategies and how they can shape the course of events in a country.

PUBLIC OPINION, THE DEFINITION

Public opinion, simply defined, is the thought of a society at a given time toward a given object. In a broader meaning, it is the power of the group to sway the larger public in its attitude.

Public opinion is subject to a variety of influences that develop and alter its views on nearly every phase of life today. Religion, science, art, politics, etc. Our society and institutions are constantly combated by the activities of individuals with strong convictions techniques and know-how.

Public opinion manipulation is not new, it has been practiced under different methods ever since humanity existed. Traditionally, it is achieved by repeating over and over a specific message in the public and to the media to install a particular narrative that serves one’s interests. Commercial advertisements are a great example; they are repeated endlessly until they become permanently ingrained in the public consciousness.

In fact, to shape and reshape public perceptions about any subject, it is necessary to understand human motives, to know what special interests are represented by a given group of the population, and to realize the function and limitations of the physical organs of approach to the public, such as TV & radio, social media platforms, movie, community seminars, etc.

Once the general principles of swaying public opinion are understood, the right technique can be developed. The right technique together with the correct understanding of the specific problem and the specific audience can be used effectively in such widely different situations. This has been the case in changing the attitudes of whites toward African Americans in America in the past, changing the impression that the American electorate has of its President, changing the perception of the Ukraine invasion, and an endless number of examples.

THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Group adherence is essential in changing the attitudes of the public. Authoritative and influential groups have become important channels of reaching the larger public. Today, with social media becoming the primary platform for the consumption of information for many of us, it didn’t only make it much easier to shape and reshape the public perceptions but also to analyze and understand the society’s interests and motives.

If we take the war in Ukraine as an example, the world is divided between two narratives (those who call it a ‘special military operation’ and those who call it an invasion). Each group made this perception based on their media consumption history and the geopolitical group adherence influence. Luckily, the Ukrainians, well aware of the Kremlin’s long history of using misinformation to shape public opinion, were very active on social media to debunk and avoid larger support for the Kremlin’s narrative.

To sum up, the manipulation of public opinion in general and over social media is a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life. Government agencies and political parties around the world are using mainstream and social media to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulated media. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy. Public opinion is and will constantly be manipulated, but in teaching the public how to spot these manipulation techniques we protect our right to information and to decision making.


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