With the 2020 Election coming to a close, each side is throwing accusations of improper techniques to sway the outcome. With no full confirmation yet on who will be the President come January, discussions of weaponized narrative and the role it plays in politics have started to rise. Brad Allenby, co-chair of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center for the Future of War, at Arizona State University, sat down to discuss some aspects of weaponized narrative and the danger it poses to those unaware of its impact.
Allenby cites the high emotions weaponized narrative targets as a reason to why it is so effective, most of the topics used in those specific narratives are either highly controversial or emotional. This leaves people vulnerable to the manipulation of those pulling the strings behind the scenes.
This current election isn’t the first election to have allegations of weaponized narrative, and it won’t be the last. Allenby points out Russian intervention and their tactics that domestic groups are using across the board to weaponize narratives in an effort to lead the election to their desired outcome.
This is problematic,” said Allenby, “I mean if the Russians come into an American election and distort it so that one candidate wins, which they may have done in 2016. We don’t know for sure at least publicly. When they do that, that can be seen as a direct assault on the United States we can stop it if we catch it in time.”
Meddling in the election is illegal, but Allenby emphasizes the distinction between weaponized narrative in Russia vs. when it is made in the United States.
“Mueller was able to indict the internet research agency in Russia,” he said. “However, if the exact same message is made by American political groups, it becomes political free speech and is highly protected.”
Another factor coming into this election is the role QAnon has played in the spread of information and conspiracy theories, something Allenby stresses helps the meddling in the election more than anything else. He says the narrative being pushed by Russian meddling can easily be spread to domestic American groups to spread and making it easier for Russian intervention. They don’t have to directly intervene but spread the seeds of the narrative and let it grow throughout the U.S.
“You see this in the dynamics QAnon -it’s a ridiculous conspiracy theory, but there are at least 10 Republicans running across the country who are believers of QAnon,” Allenby said. “So these domestic efforts, which are protected under the First Amendment, become an extension of what the Russians were doing for years ago.”
Allenby said the difference in this election as opposed to the last elections is the weaponized narrative is being done internally, citing the political ads popping up near the election as an example. These ads “increasingly rely on fear and anger” and aim to play on high emotions.
One goal of the ads is to energize, with the second being to increase fear and anger, which Allenby describes as a “good way to leapfrog over your rational cognitive processes.”
I can make you fearful and angry, I will engage you with my narrative,” said Alleby. “I can pull you into my narrative without you realizing that that’s in fact what I’m doing.”
About the Author:
Claire Chandler is the Communications Aide at the Center for Law, Science and Innovation. She is in her last year at the Cronkite School for Journalism and Mass Communication where she is focusing on Print Journalism and Public Relations.