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19 April 2023

Authoritarian regimes 'harness distrust towards media and politicians'

The propaganda machines of authoritarian governments have harnessed a general sense of distrust in media as a means of amplifying their message, a new study has found.

Photo of inside of a radio broadcast studio

Dr Maxim Alyukov found that state propagandists in Vladimir Putin’s Russia could add credibility to their own messaging by playing on the sense of mistrust in mainstream media and politicians that has permeated public discourse.

And while there was a general sense of distrust towards state media among citizens, Dr Alyukov, from the King’s Russia Institute, found that this did not guarantee that propaganda was being evaluated critically.

The findings were revealed in a new paper authored by Dr Alyukov, Harnessing Distrust: News, Credibility Heuristics, and War in an Authoritarian Regime, published in the journal Political Communication.

Dr Alyukov said: “I found that citizens perceive regime propaganda with distrust and often rely on popular wisdom and personal experience to identify bias. However, this does not necessarily guarantee a critical attitude toward regime propaganda.

“Citizens use these resources to evaluate propaganda’s credibility selectively depending on their political alignment. Indeed, their reliance on personal experience and popular wisdom undermines the authority of state media in general.

“However, propaganda resonates with the distrust toward media and politics that permeates citizens’ experiences. As a result, the reliance on these resources for interpreting political information can amplify, rather than erode, the credibility of specific news stories.”


You can read the paper in full here.

In this story

Maxim Alyukov

Research Fellow