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The Visual Frames of Social Media Propaganda

Seminar: The Visual Frames of Social Media Propaganda - Marco Bastos (University College Dublin)

14:00-15:00 (IST) Wednesday, October 20.

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Abstract: In this talk we present a study that combined data analysis with multilevel processing of visual communication to classify the visual frames of state-sponsored social media propaganda. The study leverages the database made available through Twitter’s Election Integrity Initiative to sample five propaganda targets of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), including Russian and American partisan groups, and explored how their operations deviated from canonical state propaganda marked by symbols of national identity and heroic masculinity. We unpack the benefits of a mixed methods design combining the qualitative coding and analysis of photographic images with statistical and computer processing of the data and show that the visual frames employed by the IRA are designed to embody the vox populi with relatable, familiar, or attractive faces of ordinary people. The results also indicate that IRA influence operations displayed cultural acuity and familiarity with the social identity of their targets, and that the visual narrative the agency crafted trafficked primarily in the tropes of regular guys or attractive young women. The talk concludes with a discussion of these findings and the extent to which they may reflect broader shifts in the execution of influence operations.

About the speaker: Marco Bastos is the University College Dublin Ad Astra Fellow at the School of Information and Communication Studies and Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication in the Department of Sociology at City, University of London. He has held research positions at the University of California at Davis, Duke University, University of São Paulo, and the University of Frankfurt. His research leverages computational methods and network science to explore the intersection of communication and critical data studies.