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Disinformation, performed: self-presentation of a Russian IRA account on Twitter

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How disinformation campaigns operate and how they fit into the broader social communication environment – which has been described as a ‘disinformation order’ [Bennett & Livingston, (2018). The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutions. European Journal of Communication, 33(2), 122–139] – represent critical, ongoing questions for political communication. We offer a thorough analysis of a highly successful disinformation account run by Russia’s Internet Research Agency: the so-called ‘Jenna Abrams’ account. We analyze Abrams’ tweets and other content such as blogposts with qualitative discourse analysis, assisted by quantitative content analysis and metadata analysis. This yields an in-depth understanding of how the IRA team behind the Abrams account presented this persona across multiple platforms and over time. Especially, we describe the techniques used to perform personal authenticity and cultural competence. The performance of personal authenticity was central to her persona building as a likeable American woman, whereas the performance of cultural competence enabled her to infiltrate American conservative communities with resonant messages. Implications for understanding disinformation processes, and how some aspects of the hybrid media system are especially vulnerable to hijacking by bad actors are discussed.
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Keywords: Disinformation; affordances; authenticity; performance; self-presentation; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA 2: Division of Emerging Media Studies, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

Publication date: September 19, 2019

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