At the height of the 2016 election, researchers at the RAND Corporation released a report documenting an unusual propaganda model dubbed the “firehose of falsehood.” The report described a strategy where a propagandist could overwhelm the public by producing a never-ending stream of misinformation and falsehoods.
The report found that these lies didn’t have to be believable — even clear falsehoods, repeated widely and frequently enough, could be effective in warping public opinion in the propagandist’s favor.
It might sound like the RAND report was describing Trump, whose lies are often so blatant they defy explanation.
But the report was actually describing Russian propaganda.
At first glance, Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin seem to have wildly different communication styles. But what they share is a tendency to repeat big, obvious lies. Whether it’s denying the presence of Russian troops in Crimea or falsely claiming millions of people voted illegally during the 2016 election, both leaders demonstrate a kind of shamelessness when it comes to telling and retelling big lies.
That’s because firehosing isn’t actually about persuasion. It’s about power.