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  • Writer's pictureRobbie Sutton

Episode 28. How to Manipulate an Election (Trump, Murdoch and Brexit)

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Free and fair elections are the bedrock of any democracy. Today we discuss the ways in which elections can be manipulated; media ownership and influence, foreign PsyOps focused on election interference, and companies like Cambridge Analytica who are hired to swing elections. We also break open a story connecting Brexit and the Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdomws



Kevin Rudd

  • Former Prime Minister of Australia (Labor Party)

  • Former Representative at the UN General Assembly

  • Senior Fellow at Harvard

  • Honorary Professor at the University of Peking

  • Expert on US-China Relations

Nick Mutch

  • Journalist focusing on foreign policy issues

  • Written for The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, Der Speigel and the Daily Beast.

  • Involved in the investigations into Foreign Interference in the UK.

William Marcellino

  • Senior Behavioural Social Scientist for RAND Corporation

  • Professor and Socio-Linguist at the Pardee School


Part 1: The Fox and the Hounds (04:11)

  • With Kevin Rudd we examine the political dynamics of print media in Australia, its relationship with digital and television media, and the role it plays in regulating and directing the political conversation in Australia.

  • We discuss the political and business goals and strategies of Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation) in particular, and his domination of print media in Australia (in addition to holdings/ventures such as Fox News in the USA and Sky News/Daily Mail in the UK). The significant market share controlled by NewsCorp allows for commensurate influence both with sitting politicians directly and by pushing or ignoring stories in accordance with a broadly right-wing/liberal editorial line.

  • One example offered by Rudd, which sets up a general pattern of very poor relations between his government and senior NewsCorp figures, was by pushing the line that Rudd's government was internally chaotic and poorly run, as well as the story of Rudd supposedly berating Australian troops during a trip to Afghanistan (a story which was only quietly retracted several days afterwards, despite having front page news).

  • We explore the political ramifications of Murdoch’s influence, his overall personal agenda, and his seeming ability to connect and deal directly with world leaders such as Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Scott Morrison, despite being in theory a private businessman. Rudd himself notes that it would be entirely 'rational' for a political leader to at the very least entertain calls from someone with that degree of market control.

  • Rudd also notes the instance whereby a $17.5 million AUD contribution of taxpayer money in order to sustain sports coverage during the COVID19 pandemic was made tender or any other mechanism, and should have been a scandal.


Part 2: All the Kremlin's Men (26:08)

  • With Nick Mutch we examine the apparent emergence of 'Information Warfare' on to the global stage, and the effects it is having both on international and domestic politics. We explore 'disinformation', and how modern propaganda techniques can be used to alter or recontextualise events to fit desired narratives, particularly with an eye to their use by state actors such as Russia.

  • This isn't necessarily done solely by state agents or institutions, private elements can also be deeply involved, either working for states or domestic political actors, with Cambridge Analytica being the most notorious. These companies utilise data analysis methods to identify voters likely to vote for the 'other side' but whom could be deterred from voting via a barrage of targeted propaganda messaging delivered through social media.

  • Mutch elaborates on his experience covering the 'Brexit' campaign in the UK, and his investigation into the efforts of one Aaron Banks, who at least in part bankrolled Nigel Farage to the tune of 8-9 million GBP, and the reports that some degree of this funding was coming from Russia, and he had been meeting extensively with Russian business figures, diplomats, and officials.


Part 3: Four Hundred Dollars (54:05)

  • With William Marcellino we discuss the state use of propaganda and Psychological Operations to influence overseas voters in ways which favour the foreign policy goals of the user.

  • We examine the case of the Russian Internet Research Agency, and its use of social media bots and fake or pseudonymous accounts (sock puppet) to steer and escalate existing domestic conversations, to facilitate political discord. By generating distrust amongst populations along political or ethnic lines of tension, the target state would be distracted or inattentive to Russian geopolitical moves in other parts of the world.

  • Marcellino discusses the efforts he has been engaged in to identify and combat the use of "troll" and bot accounts. According to Marcellino, the main activities and tactics used include artificially "boosting" or amplifying news items or rumours in order to build up a seemingly national narrative, linking otherwise unconnected incidents in the minds of readers.

  • We also consider how nations and social media platforms are trying to respond to this sort of manipulation, not only in with regards to the actual technical policies developed, but also culturally, with many nations having strong normative or ideological feelings towards perceived media censorship.


The Red Line's Election Manipulation Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the Election Manipulation.




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This episode is dedicated to Patreon member ThinkingMansGame.


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