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Catgirl psyops - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.


Someone told me recently that they can tell which of these entries I write. I think this can be interpreted in both a positive and a negative way. They also recommended adding bylines, so we’re sort of removing the anonymity of authorship just in time for me to forever immortalise my name alongside thoughts on Israeli Catgirl TikTok Propaganda.

The similarities between advertising and disinformation are often overlooked, on both the hostile and the detection sides. On the hostile side, an advertising campaign is basically a psyop designed to convince you to take a physical act in the real world and buy After Eight mints, or go on holiday to Turkey, or impulsively sell your car online for way less than it’s worth. And if you look at the evolution of advertising, you can see an evolution in disinformation.

Advertising realised the power of the influencer early on. Products born and hawked on Instagram have built commercial empires over the past decade. Disinformation campaigns took a little longer to reach that kind of scale. Sure, they were good at funding and building wholly biased influencers (Max Blumenthal, Aaron Maté) but it took them until the pandemic to realise the value that placing a product—this time a narrative—in the mouth of an organic influencer could hold. The problem with Blumenthal is that his audience is a finite echo chamber of cynics. On the other hand, organic influencers, like InstaMoms and CryptoBros, have multiple audiences, and those audiences trust their sources, their influencers, their streamer, inherently.

It's funny how cyclical disinformation can be. People go through phases where content is fashionable - when we should exclusively focus on the narrative being spread. Then it’s network graphs, and you better make sure you have a Gephi chart on a black background if you want anyone to read your Twitter thread. Then, suddenly it’s behaviour again, and the content doesn’t matter. But sources haven’t been in Vogue for some time and maybe that’s because source scepticism—don’t trust Wikipedia kids—has long been an issue long before the internet became 90% crypto scams and 10% catgirls.

Michael Crichton coined the ‘Gell-Mann Amnesia effect’:

“You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the ‘wet streets cause rain’ stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

The effect is pronounced in magazines, websites, newspapers. But have we ever thought about it in relation to influencers? The advertisers have.

Countless studies show that Gen-Z have no brand loyalty and that they’re basically immune to traditional advertising from the old mega-corporations. They have an inherent digital resilience to corporate manipulation—which is probably a good thing long term. But humans always have a weakness, and for those resilient to traditional advertising, it’s influencer-led manipulation. The IDF and US Military have discovered leveraging this power of lifestyle influencers to sell their products – military service and nationalism. Catgirl Natalia Fadeev for the IDF, e-girl Haylujan (who is a full-time employee of the Army Psyops Division) for the US.

This is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect in action - recruiting male teens on social media with hypersexualised military fetishism. Aheago and M16s… Welcome to 2023.

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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