Gasoline on the Fire: A Lesson from the Russians for the Rest of Us

“The Russian influence campaigns often pour gasoline on a fire that is already burning,” said Simon Rosenberg, who worked to counter disinformation for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It is far more efficient and effective to amplify and extend divisive narratives already in circulation.”

That quote appears in a recent a Greg Sargent column about Russian disinformation AFTER the 2018 election, but the idea has been around at least as long as has been covering digital rapid response — which is a while. A related metaphor? It’s a lot easier to ride a wave than it is to create one.

Basically, reaching people with your issue or campaign is easier if you can tie it to something they already care about. Reporters, bloggers and activists are generally primed for a new angle on a hot story, and with the right frame, you might catch a free ride into newsfeeds and headlines. It’s occasionally be as easy (and shameless) as hitchhiking on a trending hashtag, but more often you’ll need to do the hard work of coloring your stories, photos, video or data in ways that directly connect with something already in the news.

The Russians trying to influence our political culture have played a longer game than most political communicators, and a more subversive one. They knew to pound on the raw nerves in our culture, understanding that Americans’ prejudices were ripe for exploitation. Most political communicators will NOT share their goals, but we can still learn from their tactics: frame your issues in terms that are already familiar and tie your stories to topics that have already grabbed our attention. Just be careful not to pour too volatile a cockail on that fire, lest you burn down your own barn in the process.

For more about political rapid response, see “How to Use the Internet to Change the World — and Win Elections


Written by
Colin Delany
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