Division of labor, capital, and amplification within the Internet Research Agency disinformation network

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2020-12

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Abstract

Propaganda and disinformation on social media present a novel manifestation of a timeless issue; their impact on societies and democracies in particular makes them relevant for sociological inquiry. I address this gap by analyzing the Russian based Internet Research Agency, an organization dedicated to social media-based astroturfing and disinformation which was indicted for interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. I analyze them using a mixed method approach that highlights the network’s structure and message content, thereby identifying trends, groups, and mechanisms present within IRA activity. I show that there is a clear division of labor within the network and link this division with modes of capital exchange and manifestation of habitus in order to feign legitimacy. I highlight clear functions within this network and their interplay. Furthermore, I review two case studies of hoax messaging to assess IRA development over time and methods for propagating fabricated crises. Lastly, I offer options for further study and situate the issue within other sociological frameworks, thereby illustrating its scope and relevance for future inquiry and mitigation.


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Keywords

Internet Research Agency, Disinformation, Astroturfing, Division of labor, Capital, Habitus, Deception, Social media, Politics

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