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.

THE STRATEGY OF DISTRACTION

The strategy of distraction is mainly used to divert the public attention from important issues, changes, and facts by the technique of flooding continuous distractions, misinformation, alternative “truths” (which means misinformation), and insignificant information. The strategy of distraction is also used to induce doubts, feelings of uncertainty and creating public anxiety. Doubts, uncertainty and anxiety open the door to conspiracy myths, mistakenly also called conspiracy theories. (A theory in science is considered to be true, based on experimental evidence.)

Throughout history, governments and politicians have applied all kinds of distraction strategy techniques to countries and individuals. A common technique is refuting arguments by appealing to nationalism or by inspiring fear and hate towards a foreign country or towards all foreigners. This technique gives the propagandists the power to discredit any information coming from other countries.

Putin, a master in public opinion manipulation and distraction, has been pointing at a small minority of Nazis to justify his claim that Ukraine needs to be “denazified”. There are Nazis in Ukraine. But there are not more than in any other country, including Russia. Pointing at them helps Putin to distract from the genocide and war crimes he is committing otherwise against the whole nation of Ukrainians.

In fact, across the multiple social and alternative media platforms, Russian front organizations are pushing propaganda and alternative “facts” (which are not facts at all) to divert the public attention and induce doubt, efforts that have only intensified as the war waged on. Truth, as usual, is the first casualty of war.

In another example, In 2012 Russia used Ukraine to distract people of its atrocities in Syria.

strategy of distraction 
Source: The economist

This being said, Indecision and distraction have long been central to Russia’s dezinformatsiya (disinformation) policy, a term Stalin himself is credited with coining. While an ancient concept, Russia had by the imperial age mastered dark obfuscation techniques refined for the era of mass communication. By the dawn of the Soviet empire, they realized this potential on an industrial scale, establishing the world’s first office dedicated to disinformation in 1923. In the 1960s, the KGB covertly sponsored American fringe groups, amplifying conspiratorial narratives about everything from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to water fluoridation.

DISTRACTION & MISINFORMATION SEEK TO CONFOUND, NOT CONVINCE

Conviction is not the chief goal of disinformation; instilling doubt is. This is why Russian troll-farms push ample resources into hawking lies virtually everywhere. The ubiquity of these fictions gives them an implicit veneer of legitimacy, fueling polarization and distrust.

Thus, if we are not to fall victim to such manipulation, it is crucial that we question our media sources more carefully than ever before and seek information outside our echo chambers.



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