A cultural exploration of the social media manipulators

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Authors: Sample, C., McAlaney, J., Bakdash, J. and Thackray, H.


Journal: European Conference on Information Warfare and Security, ECCWS

Volume: 2018-June

Pages: 432-440

eISSN: 2048-8610

ISBN: 9781911218852

ISSN: 2048-8602

© 2018 Curran Associates Inc. All rights reserved. The widespread use of Internet social media sites for the production and dissemination of propaganda continues to grow and gather attention. Social media sites spread information faster and wider than those institutions and methods historically limited to state-affiliated organizations. There are several characteristics that are unique to virtual space and make the production and dissemination of propaganda different; they include the Internet’s global reach, the recipient’s apparent trust placed in information source as well as the information sources, and the low cost of participation. Thus, the use of social media as a method to spread misleading information exploits trust relationships between the reader and the source. Although propaganda is a weapon with a long history in war, in the 21st century, the delivery and distribution of propaganda through the trusted channel of social media is markedly different than what was historically observed. We investigated the relationships among state-affiliated actors who use social media to produce and distribute propaganda along with their national cultural values. Prior research inferred a link between culture and social media usage (Hofstede et al., 2010; Sample & Karamanian 2014). Specifically, Hofstede et al. (2010) contended that cultures that are more masculine use the Internet for information seeking, whereas more feminine-oriented cultures use social media sites for sharing information, seeking to build better “trusting” relationships. We sought to explore whether masculine countries would leverage the trust relationships that are present with social media users to further the reach of state-affiliated propaganda. We built upon Bradshaw & Howard’s (2017) study on propaganda purveyors, which examined preferred social media deployment techniques across 29 different countries. Using previously published methods, we examined associations with culture using Hofestede’s scale. Since masculine countries have previously been associated with information-seeking behaviors, we sought to explore the potential that more masculine cultural values are associated with greater information-shaping and -distributing behaviors compared with more feminine cultural values. The results showed a strong difference in distributions, countries that deployed fake news via social media tended to have more masculine cultural values. Moderate differences were observed in other cultural values, purveyors of social media propaganda exhibited more authoritarianism and uncertainty avoidance. These findings suggest that specific cultural values associate with the distrubtion of fake news, indicating that culturally aware responses may be more effective when responding to these events.

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