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Modus Trollerandi Part 5: Provocations

August 25, 2021

How Democracy is SWAMPED: Seven Cheap Tricks

In a series of articles, EUvsDisinfo will demonstrate a few of the cheap tricks of the Rhetoric of Disinformation; how the producers of disinformation systematically derail an exchange of ideas – the core of democracy – through a set of handy devices. Kremlin trolls ensure public discourse gets bogged down in a quagmire of pointless contestation. A Swedish activist has coined the term Modus Trollerandi to describe ways of trying to spoil the public debate through a set of cheap tricks. EUvsDisinfo has developed the concept further, to show how democracy gets SWAMPED by malign manipulation.

S: Strawmen:

Attack views or ideas, never expressed by the target.

W: Whataboutism:

Deflect the discussion away from the subject.

A: Attack:

Use brutal language to discourage the opposition.

M: Mockery:

Use sarcasm to belittle the opposition.

P: Provocations:

Who benefits from Cui Bono?

E: Exhaust:

Drown the opposition in details and technicalities.

D: Denial:

Flatly deny any evidence

P for provocations:

Occasionally, the purpose of a rhetorical device is to occupy the information space. This is in line with military theory, outlined in the Journal of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies:

“A preventively shaped narrative, answering to the national interests of the state, can significantly diminish the impact of foreign forces’ activities in the information sphere, as they, as a rule, attempt to occupy “voids” [in the information flow].”

Russian military in Syria habitually forward claims that anti-Assad groups are planning chemical attacks against civilians, in order “to stage a provocation”, i.e. to blame the Syrian regime’s troops.


Moscow, 23 May. INTERFAX. “On the eve of the presidential elections in Syria, militants from the terror group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (forbidden in Russia) are preparing provocations with the use of poisonous substances in the Western parts of the Idlib province. So reports the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria, Rear Admiral Aleksandr Karpov.”

Moscow, 20 February. RT. “The deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria, Rear Admiral Vyacheslav Sytnik reports that militants in the North-East part of the Idlib zone are preparing a provocation, using poisonous substances.”

Moscow, 14 October. TASS. “Militants are preparing provocations with the use of poisonous chemical substances in the southern parts of the Idlib zone of de-escalation in Syria. So reports the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria, Rear Admiral Aleksandr Grinkevich.”

Moscow, 23 September. Izvestiya. “Terrorists are planning a provocation, using poisonous substances in Idlib in order to blame the government of Syria for using chemical weapons against the civilian population. This was reported Wednesday by the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation centre for Syria, Rear Admiral Aleksandr Grinkevich.”

A provocation is, in the pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets’ toolbox, an operation performed by the opposition, targeting their own, in order to justify an attack. Other terms for the same concept are “set-up” or “false flag operation”. A similar idea is “the sacrifice of the sacred”. The EUvsDisinfo disinformation database contains numerous examples of the device: Navalny was poisoned by Western intelligence; MH17 was shot down by the Brits, The Democrats set up the January riots in Washington DC and, most recently, Lukashenka fell into a trap, rigged by British Intelligence.

The statements are, as a rule, never actually intended to convince anyone and the predictions are 100 per cent inaccurate. They aim at setting up an element of uncertainty, despite a complete lack of foundation or proof for the claims. In some cases, the “provocation device” might tempt professional media to suggest “alternative versions”. The world is a globe, but there might be some truth in the flat Earth theory.

Next: E for Exhaust

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