Weaponizing Facts: How Revisionist States Polarize Foreign Audiences with Factual Content

59 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2022

See all articles by Noel Foster

Noel Foster

University of California

Zenobia Chan

Princeton University - Department of Politics

Date Written: April 14, 2022

Abstract

How do revisionist states leverage new technologies to disrupt foreign politics? Drawing on extensive elite interviews and insights from behavioral economics and social psychology, we argue that revisionist powers can use strategic narratives — factual accounts of issues controversial across pre-existing societal cleavages — to polarize voters through a combination of confirmation bias and reactance. Contrary to recent literature on fake news, we present evidence on the political economy of social media platforms that renders fake news impracticable and counter-productive in most markets. We test the effects of Russian strategic narratives using original survey experiments in Estonia. We show that exposure to factual content on migration and the Soviet legacy polarized Estonian voters along ethnolinguistic cleavages by making ethnic Estonians more likely to support right-leaning nationalist parties, while pushing the Russian-speaking minority to back left-leaning ethnic interest parties. A polarized population serves the revisionist state sender’s objective of paralyzing policy-making in the target state.

Keywords: Russia, information operations, strategic narratives, polarization

Suggested Citation

Foster, Noel and Chan, Zenobia, Weaponizing Facts: How Revisionist States Polarize Foreign Audiences with Factual Content (April 14, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4122667 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4122667

Noel Foster

University of California ( email )

540 Alumni Ln
Davis, CA 95616
United States

Zenobia Chan (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Politics ( email )

001 Fisher Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

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