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25 Brown J. World Aff. 1 (2018-2019)
Disguised Propaganda on Social Media: Addressing Democratic Dangers and Solutions

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      Disguised Propaganda on

                     Social Media:

     Addressing Democratic Dangers

                       and Solutions




                           JOHAN FARKAS

THE STRUCTURE OF PRESENT-DAY SOCIETY places the individual where he is most
easily reached by propaganda... the technical evolution of this society deepen [s]
this situation.' At first glance, this quote seems to aptly capture contemporary
debates about the dangers to democracy posed by deception and false informa-
tion in digital environments. Yet, it predates the internet substantially, appear-
ing in the seminal work of French philosopher Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The
Formation of Mens Attitudes, first published in 1962.2 In recent years, political
actors worldwide have grown increasingly concerned with the ways in which
new forms of manipulation, propaganda, and fake news might subvert and
distort public deliberation. These concerns rose to prominence in late 2016 fol-
lowing the British European Union membership referendum and the election
of President Donald Trump in the United States. Since then, case after case has
provided unsettling glimpses into the dark underbelly of the digital era, unravel-
ling complex layers of deception and disinformation. Subversive actors-from
individuals to organizations and even nation states-have weaponized social
media in order to achieve political goals. Fake profiles, social bots, and micro-
targeted advertisements are only some of the strategies currently employed. The
implications of such tactics are difficult to estimate, yet they raise a series of
disturbing questions about the current state of liberal democracies. This essay sets


JoHAN FARKAs is PhD Fellow at Malm6 University, Media and Communication Studies. His
research revolves around new forms of political propaganda and struggles in digital media. Far-
kas' work is published in international journals such as New Media & Society andJavnost - 7he
Public. He is also the author of a forthcoming chapter in the anthology Fake News: Understanding
Media and Misinformation in the DigitalAge (MIT Press).
Copyright © 2018 by the Brown Journal of WorldAffairs


FALL/WINTER 2018 - VOLUME XXV, ISSUE I

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