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South Korean military remove propaganda loudspeakers from the demilitarized zone in May. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

In 2013, when Peter Singer started writing a new book about online propaganda, the topic was largely speculative for U.S. readers. Singer and co-author Emerson Brooking watched in horror as their research merged with America's reality in 2016.

The big picture: "Russia is not the full story," Singer tells Codebook. "Russia is just a chapter in a larger book." If anything, says Singer, our election-focused taste of misinformation might minimize the breadth of the problem.

Singer, a researcher at the New America think tank, means that both figuratively and literally. His and Brooking's book, "LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media," comes out today. It may be the first study to link Mexican cartels, ISIS and reality TV villain Spencer Pratt.

  • These disparate actors all follow the same basic rules for spreading self-promotional messages for mass impact.

Singer interviewed Pratt for the book. He has also briefed various intelligence agencies. "Spencer Pratt gets it. The government doesn't," he said.

It's Trump's playbook: "LikeWar" isn't about President Trump; he's just another chapter. But Singer tells Codebook that Trump is a good distillation of the tactics others use to make online propaganda work:

  • Push to extremes. Like Moscow's social media campaigns, Trump tweets about issues that distract from more substantive or less flattering news and he strengthens both edges of a culture war, eliminating the center.
  • Roughness over polish. Trump, a man of grammatical errors and rage, connects with voters by improvising something they perceive as authentic rather than presenting polished messages or a command of issues. While ISIS is best known in the West for its propaganda videos, Singer pins much of its recruitment successes on its more candid videos linked to the news of the day — like those showing members mourning the death of Robin Williams.
  • Address your followers. Trump's outreach to "forgotten" Americans or "deplorables" has taken advantage of the internet's capacity to build niche communities.
  • Be relentless. @realdonaldtrump never stops, producing multiple battle fronts every day while reinforcing messaging (including messages that others have persuasively debunked). There's no one thing to hold on to.

The bottom line: These tactics aren't secret sauce any more. Singer cites an example in Israel, where the approach has been institutionalized.

  • The Israeli military currently recruits content creators. (The work counts toward the nation's military requirement.)
  • A nonmilitary group is also now using a smartphone app to send international volunteers assignments, like praising Conan O'Brien on Instagram during his visit to Israel.

Go deeper

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.