The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773)

A prominent senator, Matt Gaetz, and two other politicians retweet a photo of the famed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, with praise.

An outspoken vaccine naysayer, Naomi Wolf, tweets a photo of a well-known adult film actor presenting him as a doctor advising on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ironically these errant retweeters have a history of accusing media of fake news.

So what’s behind these gaffes?

It’s a new tactic emerging on Twitter, a platform where any information, including fake news, can spread like wildfire. And the man behind both incidents isn’t a figure shrouded in mystery as you might think. He’s an investigative journalist for The Intercept, Ken Klippenstein, with a side hobby of pranking prominent accounts. Using a verified account, no less.

So how does it work? First, find a target with a clear agenda. Then provide them with user-generated content that supports that agenda and wait for them to bite. But the content is a trojan horse ― inside the enemy is waiting in silence.

A self-proclaimed patriot retweets an enemy of the state on Memorial Day. A vaccine naysayer that regularly casts doubt on scientific information presents an adult film actor as a reliable source of medical information.

Neither has vetted the source nor the veracity of the information. Their itchy trigger fingers, fueled by a desire to pursue their narrative, betray them, ultimately revealing them as the propagaters of “fake news” and, ultimately, hypocrites.

These incidents crystallize the current American zeitgeist: “gotcha” tactics, strong antagonism between political camps, and the itchy trigger fingers behind Twitter accounts ― a platform that moves at the speed of light.

Public relations was born out of the American democratic political process, which relies on swaying public opinion through ever evolving strategies and tactics. Trojan horse tweeting is just the latest development born in the skirmish of the social media wars.

Social media managers and PR professionals alike would be wise not to fall victim to the same tactics. That’s easily done. Just hold social media to the same standards of the PR profession: only relay information that you can verify and know who’s behind it.

Sounds simple, right? Make sure to remember it during your next tweet.


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