Staunton, Aug. 1 – Propaganda works, dictators have learned how to use the media in clever ways, and the Internet has not had the effect on Putin’s regime that many expected, Ilya Nadporozhsky says. But “paradoxically, the tightening of censorship and propaganda may signal not the invincibility of the regime but its weakness.”
There are three reasons for that conclusion, the US-based Russian scholar says. First, censorship and propaganda leads many in their audiences to seek alternative sources of news and also to ask questions about why their government is choosing to try to defend itself by misleading the population (holod.media/2023/08/01/end-of-propaganda/).
Second, despite what some think and the impact of confirmation bias, Russians remain capable of identifying government lies if they have access to independent sources. And third, they are prepared if they receive sufficient access to independent media which highlights how the government is misleading them.
The Russian government’s media effort is not based on lies along, Nadporozhsky says. One method is to talk about the problems of others. Indeed, one study has found that Izvestiya covered problems in the West far more often when Russia was having difficulties than when it was not.
Another is that the regime typically chooses not to lie about things that people can easily see for themselves are not true lest its dishonest lead Russians to question other things the regime says. Studies have found, for example, that Moscow rarely lies about economic conditions. Instead, it seeks to blame others for problems in Russia.
And the Russian regime has responded to the rise of the Internet by using the Internet against the spread of truthful and reliable information, counting on confirmation bias and the algorithms of the Internet to work to its benefit and thus restrict the possibility that the Internet will undermine the state.
Nonetheless, the Russian scholar says, as alternative information becomes more available, the regime faces ever greater challenges in doing so, prompting it to step up its propaganda efforts and to use more repression as a way of countering the declining influence of its messaging on the population.