The Universities' Police Science Institute's latest briefing paper summarises research on the science of influence to show how various techniques are employed in digital communications environments. There is a particular focus upon the role of uncertain or contested ‘soft facts’ and the ways these are deployed to shape public attitudes and behaviour.
The disruptive and transformative societal impacts of social media platforms and how they influence the ways we think, feel and behave is an increasingly important public policy issue. Reflecting a need to understand these developments, there has been a recent rapid growth in the science of influence. Evidence and insights derived from a range of academic disciplines, including social psychology, political science, communication studies, behavioural economics, sociology and data science, are improving our understanding of how and why influence happens in digital spaces.
This briefing sets out how ‘digital influence engineering’ is conducted and some of the key techniques used when communicating high volumes of information to foster more extreme viewpoints, undermine institutions and mobilise us to act in socially unacceptable or criminal ways, both online and offline in the ‘real world’. It seeks to synthesize emergent state-of-the-art knowledge, with a particular focus upon the impact of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ facts.