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Francesca Tripodi and affiliate Rebecca Lewis spoke with Josh Braun about the January 6, 2020 attack on the U.S. Capitol and how the riot changes our understanding of media effects.

What you’ll see, from Bill O’Reilly all the way up to Q drops, is a call on believers to “do their own research,” to not believe what the “mainstream media liars” or that the political elites want you to be. And so they’re actually evoking the same calls for media literacy that traditional journalists go by: interrogate your source, ask yourself what might be their ulterior motive…

Tripodi discussed how media literacy practices fail to protect from this kind of manipulation, where tailored keywords channel our attention to specific targets. She discussed how elites use keyword creation to seed new ideas among their supporters.

There were several conspiracy theories that we saw would originate in these far right forums like 4chan and 8chan, and then a YouTuber would make a video about them. And the conspiracy theory would explode in popularity. And then you would see anchors on on Fox News bringing it into their coverage, and maybe not being quite as definitive about it, but  bringing it into the discourse by saying, “well, this at least raises questions for us.”

One of the important things with that process is the way that these very different and discrete sources all end up playing a role in this broader process that brings these conspiracy theories or extremist ideas from the fringes into the mainstream.

Lewis discussed the reverse information flow and how conspiracies and fringe topics move from the grassroots into the mainstream.

In concluding the conversation, Braun returned to the question of whether this research or our understanding of January 6 changes how we think about media effects. He noted, “a lot of the problematic and radical content we’ve been talking about seems designed not to persuade or to tell people what to do or to change people’s behavior in the ways we typically associate with media effects. A lot of partisan conspiracies online and in other media seem to be about justification and rationalizationabout letting people, primarily white people in this case, hold on to prejudices that they already have.”

Listen to the interview on SoundCloud


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