GUY NEXT DOOR AND IMPLAUSIBLY ATTRACTIVE YOUNG WOMEN: THE VISUAL FRAMES OF SOCIAL MEDIA PROPAGANDA
Keywords:Visual Framing, Disinformation, Propaganda, Internet Research Agency, Twitter
This study introduces a mixed-methods approach to classifying the visual frames of state-sponsored social media propaganda. We relied on Twitter’s Election Integrity data to sample five key propaganda targets of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), including Russian and American partisan groups. We manually coded profile images and subsequently applied qualitative and quantitative processing to the images. The visual motifs identified in IRA Twitter profiles allowed us to explore how their operations deviated from canonical state propaganda marked by symbols of national identify and heroic masculinity. Indeed, the results show that the visual frames employed by the Internet Research Agency are designed to embody the vox populi with relatable, familiar, or attractive faces of ordinary people. The results also show that IRA influence operations displayed cultural acuity and familiarity with the social identity of their targets, and that the visual narrative it crafted trafficked primarily in the tropes of regular guys or implausibly attractive young women. We discuss these findings and argue that state propaganda has effectively attuned to both subcultural and visual affordances of social platforms.