Innovative Evolutionary Political Communication versus Monopolistic Opinion and Political Propaganda
By Ulrike Reisner
Ulrike Reisner
Self-employed political analyst, lecturer & journalist, based in Vienna / Austria, political analyst with "Creative Diplomacy" (PICREADI).
This dossier was worked out exclusively for the Russian International Affairs Council in the time
period of October – November 2018.

It introduces the basic principles of the Method of Fractal Description (MFD). This model was
developed by the author especially for political discourse analysis. Fractal analysis may serve as an effective tool for learning about this self-similarity of information. For this dossier, the topic of political communication itself was subjected to fractal analysis
"The reason why media propaganda systems are so successful is
that many people don't have the time, the commitment or the energy
to carry out the constant battle that is required to get out of this kind of manufactured consent"
Noam Chomsky

Today, immunisation against the rational discourse is once again taking place through political and religious dogmas. The new media supports the (re)production of simple political explanations. In the globalised digitised world, the answer to political propaganda and monopolistic opinion spread by empires and media corporations should not be the use of the same means and methods for the
purpose of attrition warfare. The enemies of knowledge are belief and ideology-related explanations. They are based on closed world views that are not accessible to rational scrutiny. The dissemination of information based on intelligent analysis will keep the necessary competition in global political discourse alive. In a multipolar world, it is essential that the digital political space of opinion and information is kept open.

It is a recognized evolutionary principle that communication between different systems enables cooperation and further evolutionary development. If communication between different systems is inhibited or dominated by one system, cooperation and evolutionary progress are hindered. This principle also applies to political communication.

Right now, both the political and the legal spheres are lagging miles behind factual developments in political communication. Neither the policies nor the legal systems in the states were prepared for the rapid technological development of the last three decades. This applies to the Internet, to social media and – above all – to the global networking of trade, finance, mobility and communication.

The traditional state-organised political stakeholders are forced to react to these radical changes. Political communication is no longer tied to specific (inter)governmental organisations. Political discourse is in progress throughout the entire globalised digitised world. This development is not only a consequence of the integration of political and economic spheres, which no longer stop at national borders. The recipient of political address has access to endless flows of sheer information, communicates universally, and with a high degree of temporal flexibility.

The new media enable political and non-political stakeholders to exchange ideas worldwide and in a matter of seconds. Citizens join together in a flash to form actions concerning issues that may well lie within the political realm. Political communicators in every political system therefore have to deal with this diversification of information and the manifold possibilities of its dissemination. Above all, state-organised political stakeholders are forced to apply new forms of communication and contents, adapted to the respective medium, up to the use of technical means of AI.

In the globalised digitised world, there is a new player which acts independently of humans: the use of AI leads to new phenomena, the effects of which cannot yet be predicted. Misjudgements, for instance, arise through artificially simulated, apparent majority opinions. The use of AI in the new media leads to a distribution of information that can no longer be controlled in terms of time, space and content. In contrast to human players, AI has (almost) unlimited resources.

From an evolutionary point of view, every gain in knowledge gradually leads to new values, suitable for forming the ethical and moral basis for political action. Thus, the political elites' future orientation should build upon an unconditional and unbiased increase in knowledge. Recognized humanitarian principles (human rights, the right of peoples to self-determination, etc.) can form the political corrective in such a process.

Political stakeholders are well advised to precede their communication with meticulous analysis. This analysis needs to bear in mind that the addressees move in different spaces, at different levels, at different times and with different media. Therefore, the result of such an analysis may well lead to a political discourse with exchange of information or arguments by different means, at different times
and at different levels of information.

In this dossier this complex process is approached through the principle of self-similarity, which can be a successful mechanism for passing on information. In the sense of Richard Dawkins' theory introduced in 1976 in "The Selfish Gene", a "meme" (Greek mimema – imitated) may be described as a unit of cultural information spread by imitation. The basic principles of Darwinian evolution apply: repeated copying of information (replication); occurrence of variations (mutation); and selection of some variants at the expense of others. If Dawkins is right, then memes* pursue their own selfish goals and replicate themselves whenever possible.

"Viral" memes contain instructions to copy them – with different degrees of success. Some threats or promises related to replication are more prevalent (more "viral") than others. However, all memes are competing for human attention, limited by their experiences and scepticism [1]. As with any replicator, those memes from the pool that stand out for their high "fertility", fidelity, and longevity hold their own. These are those memes that produce as many accurate and durable copies of themselves as possible.
*Among them stories, anecdotes, myths, religions, theories, language, keywords, legal systems etc.

"A fractal is a shape made of parts similar to the whole in some way"
Benoit Mandelbrot [2]

Fractal analysis may serve as an effective tool for learning about this self-similarity of information. For this dossier, the topic of political communication itself was subjected to fractal analysis*, which is presented and explained below.

Basically, it is assumed that complex network systems, as they usually exist in the fields of political institutions, processes and networks, should be described using methods of holistic thinking. This approach is then also expected to capture overall contexts and serve as a basis to draw conclusions with regard to the question. Practice shows, however, that inculcated thought patterns tend to simplify complex processes and procedures as much as possible or break them down into partial
questions. However, this approach usually involves a reduction of the question's complexity and the facts determining it to a linear (one-dimensional) view. One main challenge of political discourse analysis is the wealth of influencing parameters that need to be taken into account in order to address the complex issue of political communication and rhetoric. Since this overloads the imagination provided by classical thought patterns, it is helpful to use mathematical models. MFD allows a multidimensional description of complex and joined-up political questions inasmuch as a growing number of influencing parameters can be recorded.

In a political discourse analysis the use of MFD is based on three steps:
In the previous practice of applying MFD, the method of brainstorming worked well as a tool in step 3. The target of this brainstorming process is to collect a number of influencing parameters to describe the question. These influencing parameters are weighted with regard to their effect on the question, aiming at picking out the three most influential parameters. On this basis, the influencing with regard to core information concerning the topic parameters are introduced step by step into the fractal model. This method allows the description of the determining question based on three main influencing parameters defined in the first structural circle level, to be detailed in the next lower structural circle levels (see figure 1).
*The Method of Fractal Description and its integration in political discourse analysis has been developed by the author for three years in cooperation with Helmut Detter, a former professor for microsystems technology at the Vienna University of Technology who had the initiating idea (for further information see
Influencing parameters have to be identified with a high degree of accuracy. The reduction of the number to three derives from the fact that the "tripod" represents a stable system in natural science. The self-similarity of the fractal allows the influencing parameters to always be described in more detail.

However, the description will be only successful if the three main influencing parameters are optimally correlated with the question: in practical testing it was repeatedly determined that fractals can only be conclusively developed to the fourth, fifth or even sixth structural circle level if the three main parameters of the first level describe the question with a high degree of accuracy.

In the following, the three main influencing parameters and their fractal decomposition to the third structural circle level will be described based on essential findings from the preceding desk research analysis and the accompanying expert consultations. It should be noted that, due to the dossier's limited scope, only some of the main findings of the much more comprehensive analysis can be presented here.


Today, knowledge and information are a resource comparable to financial capital or natural resources such as oil, gas, or rare earths. "Data mining" succinctly describes the fact that communication in the political space (A11) is also about the generation of knowledge of behavioral control with the help of information. The emergence of new non-state political stakeholders in a pre-political space (A12) can be observed, often associated with economic power or the new power of information or scientific elites. The political sphere has already detached itself from the exclusivity of
traditional state political stakeholders (A111-A113). Stakeholders of the pre-political space (A121- A123) are increasingly influencing the political discourse. However, in many cases they are beyond any political control.
In the ancient Polis, the Agora was the site of political events. In the globalised digitised society (A13) this "market square" is the constantly changing and fractionating space of digital media. The special feature of the globalised society is its temporal and spatial independence: today, more than 4 billion people use the Internet and two-thirds of the world's 7.6 billion inhabitants use a mobile phone.
More than 3 billion people use social media each month, most of them accessing platforms via mobile devices [3].

Where instantly and constantly available communications are redefining our social and private interactions, the potential for engendering new spaces to reconnect citizens with politics is re-emerging [4]. The public audience is no longer restricted to receiving political messages. It is becoming a powerful political communicator in its own right. However, personalised information builds filter bubbles and causes echo chamber effects, where people get their own opinions reflected back to them [5]. Despite the enhanced openness and deindividuation in the digital sphere, it
appears that online political discussion largely takes the form of fragmented interactions within politically homogeneous clusters [6]. This fragmentation is obviously speeding up people's inability to communicate across differences [7], which is the beginning of a decline in democratic political discourse. These rapid changes have already fractionated democratic public spheres. Communicators
in the political sphere, who are traditionally associated with the political power of various state-organised stakeholders, must find their voice and seek discourse both with institutional political counterparts, with stakeholders of the "pre-political space", as well as with parts of the globalised digitised society.

The dissolution of political ideologies leads to two - obviously contradictory – tendencies. One tendency can be described as a kind of technocratic nihilism, unhindered by ethics, morality or values. The other tendency is the resurgence of religions and faith communities of all kinds. Their subject matter is not knowledge-based but belief-based and apparently offers timeless answers and concepts to ethics, morality and values.

This relationship of tension leads to political elites' disorientation with a recognisable tendency towards simple answers and explanations. The enemy of rational information (A21) are belief- and ideology-based irrational explanations (A23). They are based on closed worldviews that are not accessible to rational scrutiny.

Today, immunisation against the rational discourse is once again increasingly taking place through political and religious dogmas. The new media supports the production and reproduction of simple political responses and explanations: the digital space has not (yet) become a communicative space for competing ideas, in which the rational dialogue would prevail, but social networks expose people to reinforced versions of their existing beliefs (A232) [8]. Nudge concepts of the new "caring" governments are aiming at people's feelings (A231), steering their behaviour without involving the citizens in democratic processes [9].
Metaphors, narratives and stereotypes have become essential ingredients of political communication in the globalised digitised world. More and more this often leads to paradoxa (A233) in political communication: the oversimplification of Russia's economic state by some in the Western foreign policy community, for instance, has strengthened the belief that sanctions would cause a change in Russian policy [10]. Metaphors are used in the current discourse on Russia to manipulate the public
consciousness, provoking the addressee's necessary reaction, asserting the existing stereotypes, and creating new socio-political myths [11]. Stereotypes can be classified as intertextual [12]. Their rapid and successful dissemination is also supported by the new media. As Eco pointed out, societies have become image oriented, media started to celebrate the decline of literacy and the overwhelming
power of images (A221) at the very moment in which the computer appeared [13].

As political communication processes become more disrupted, conventional assumptions about coherent, systemic public spheres become harder to defend [14]. Classic institutional political communication (A31) including political discourse (A311), political negotiation (A312), and policy transfer (A313) are under pressure or cannot always serve as adequate means and instruments to reach the respective target groups. Making their voices heard in the digital space (A32), political
communicators have to face a new and constantly changing kind of multimodality (A322) in terms of textual, aural, linguistic, and visual resources that are being used to compose messages, complemented by new special and temporal (A321) dimensions. The Internet never forgets anything. The opportunities seem to increase without limits with the application of Artificial Intelligence (A323), the misjudgements and risks of which cannot yet be predicted [15].
The media (A33), in turn, is depicting and reflecting political and social realities less and less, but creating their own conception of the world more and more. German language media of record, for instance, is decreasingly committing itself to the diversity of opinions, but increasingly indoctrinating the public with its political and social dogmas. Following the concept of checks and balances, democratic states have repeatedly affirmed the free media's control function. However, media of
record is not content with its role. Media wants to engage in politics.

Following Chomsky's Propaganda Model [16] and the related idea of "filters", the size and profit-seeking imperative of dominant media corporations has created a bias in political communication. Thus, ownership and editorial policy (A331) is as influential a factor as is funding generated through advertising (A332). In addition, media of record support each other through the means of networks and alliances (A333) in order to increase their significance.

In a further step of MFD, the individual parameters were examined to determine the extent of possible risks associated with them. The underlying question was: which risks influence political communication in a multipolar world? In this context, "risks" are defined as the possibility of deviating from planned target values, resulting from the unpredictability of the future and caused by accidental disruptions. Risks can therefore also be regarded as "scattering" around an expected or targeted value. Both negative and positive deviations from the planned targets represent risks. The
parameters marked with yellow were identified as above-average risk. The parameters marked with red were identified as particularly high risk. Parameters that are not color-coded were considered to be of average risk and therefore neutral.*
*The estimation whether a risk factor has to be weighted as above-average, particularly high, or neutral was based on findings of the desk research and the experts' consultations. However, this estimation has to be critically evaluated in the course of subsequent qualified discussions and further political analyses.
After this, a timeline was integrated into the MFD in order to add a temporal dimension. This timeline represents a possible sequence in a political communication process. It serves to illustrate the possible emergence of risks at different stages of the communication process. Following the ideas of Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent" [16], the following sections were identified:

1. selection of topic
2. distribution of concerns
3. emphasis
4. filtering of information
5. framing of issues
6. bounding of debate

This timeline was tested using a concrete example [17] of political communication to evaluate its suitability for the application (see annex).

For a fictitious political communication process, the risk factors were listed for each individual section of the timeline (see above, 1-6) and entered in a table (see figure 8). This table provides an overview of which risk factors can affect the communication process, and at which stage.

Sender >>>
However, political communication cannot be seen solely as a one-sided process from the sender's point of view. As Lukianova and Fell pointed out with reference to Umberto Eco, the transaction of communication is a process of mutual creation of messages and, at the same time as the expression, an exchange of ideas and feelings [18]. The recipient's perspective must also be taken into consideration, since every political communicator is not only a sender but also a receiver of political
messages. For this purpose, the individual sectors of the sender's timeline have been rearranged. The recipient first meets the final product of the information sent, the already bounding debate within a framing of issues. The recipient thus accesses already filtered information and takes this as a starting point for his or her own communication process at the end of which he or she selects a new topic.

Figure 9 shows the timeline with the risk factors contained therein from the receiver's perspective. When comparing the two timelines, it becomes clear that political communication is a permanent cycle of sending and receiving messages.

>>> Receiver
For both timelines, the absolute frequencies (number of times the risk factors occurred in the consecutive sectors) were indicated, as were the two following mathematical values:

Relative risk frequency (empirical probability) = absolute frequency normalized by the total number of risk factors per sector

Cumulative risk frequency = the total of the absolute frequencies of all risk factors at or below a certain point in the timelines

A detailed description of the assumptions and calculations can be found in the appendix.
The result for fig. 10 shows that the relative risk frequency continuously increases throughout the timeline and is highest in the sector of the bounding debate. At this final point of the communication process it becomes apparent – following the idea of the memes – whether information could be successfully replicated and whether it has experienced a variation or a selection. Consequently, in the recipient's communication process (fig. 11) relative (and cumulative) risk frequencies are higher
at the beginning than in the later stages of the communication process. In these initial phases, the recipient's risk of only partially receiving a political message or in a modified form, or even misunderstanding it, is relatively high. Of course, this does not only apply for receivers in the pre-political space (A12) or in the globalised digitised society (A13), but also to receivers in the political space (A11). Since political communication is a permanent cycle of sending and receiving messages, this naturally increases the risk that misunderstandings, for example, become institutionalised.

We are witnesses to a period in time when not only the political elite but also media of record are decreasingly committing themselves to the diversity of opinions, but increasingly indoctrinating the public with their political and social dogmas. The (re)production of simple political explanations is supported by the new media support. On the other hand, the new media offer a number of possibilities for viral replication of information. This also involves the modification and selection of
information in the political communication process, which includes a number of potential risks.

The enemies of knowledge are belief and ideology-related explanations. They are based on closed worldviews that are not accessible to rational scrutiny. In contrast to this, the great meme-complex of rational information offers methods to reject empty, illogical or simply wrong ideas. Facts, arguments and evidence are information that appeals less to recipients' feelings or beliefs than to their minds. Taking up Daniel Kahneman's idea of thinking fast and slow [19], irrational information fuels stereotypic, fast, and unconscious thoughts, whereas rational information stimulates effortful, logical, calculating, and conscious thinking.

In the globalised digitised world, the answer to political propaganda and monopolistic opinion spread by empires and media corporations should not be the use of the same means and methods for the purpose of attrition warfare.

The often cited argument that in our fast-moving time the person who first uploads the information has information sovereignty falls short against this background. Political communicators can leave the speed to the machines, provided that they ensure that AI contributes to optimise the replication, modification and selection of information. Therefore, the new challenge in the strategic implementation of a political discourse lies less in the enormous investment of material resources in
(digital) media than in a meticulous analysis of the necessary communication processes with political and non-political addressees; in the political and pre-political spaces described; at different time levels; passing targeted, intelligent information ("memes"); with different means of new media; at most with the help of artificial intelligence.

The distribution of the risk frequency has shown that this analysis is essential from the sender's point of view for the final phases of the communication process, and from the receiver's point of view for the first phases of the information intake. The dissemination of information based on intelligent analysis will keep the necessary competition in global political discourse alive. In a multipolar world, the aspiration of democratic societies must be to keep the digital political space of opinion and
information open.


Sample Material: The Fourth Estate, documentary series by director Liz Garbus, Season 1 Episode 2 „The Trump Bump" (filmmaker Liz Garbus turns her lens on The New York Times, revealing the challenges, triumphs and pitfalls of covering a president who has declared the majority of the nation's major news outlets "the enemy of the people.", The film shows numerous excerpts from NYT editorial meetings and interviews with journalists.

On the basis of this material, the timeline was examined for its applicability in a concrete communication process that has demonstrably taken place and can still be tracked with the help of the video material. The time designation in brackets relate to the emission of the series on the European culture channel ARTE.*

Selection of topic: Dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, Feb. 2017 (00'50'' >>)

Distribution of concerns: The US President has the right to dismiss the FBI Director (1'20'' >>) / connection between the dismissal and the Russian investigation by the FBI (1'30'' >>) / the White House is constantly misleading the media (3'35'' >>) / loyalty conflict Trump – Comey (4'00'' >>) / emergence of the so-called Comey Protocols (7'50'' >>)

Emphasis: Comey unwilling to swear loyalty to the President >> this must have been the reason for the dismissal (4'10'' >>)

Filtering of information:
Trump's intervention to impede FBI investigations on Russia (9'00'' >>)

Framing of issues: Obstruction of justice by the President (10'50'' >>) / could the dismissal be the start for impeachment proceedings (11'30'' >>)

[Disruption of this framing]: in the course of the Senate hearing of James Comey, the former FBI director stated that the general content message of the NYT article of Feb. 14, 2017 "Trump Campaign Aid had repeated contacts with Russian Intelligence" was wrong (22'40'' >>)

Bounding of debate: Trump is targeting the free media (24'40'' >>) / vendetta against the free press (25'20'') / NYT sources are safe, the NYT story is true (25'0'' >>)

This bounding of debate was supported by re-enforcing media networks, like the Daily (5'40'' >>) or CNN inviting NYT journalists (25'50'' >>).

For both timelines, the absolute frequencies (number of times the risk factors occurred in the consecutive sectors) were indicated:
Relative frequency (empirical probability) = absolute frequency (100) normalized by the total number (80) of risk factors per sector (11+10+11+15+14+19): 100 ÷ 80 = 1.25.

Calculation example

In the first sector of the timeline (selection of topic), 3 red and 5 yellow risk factors occurred. With regard to the double and single weightings, the total of risk factors in this section is 11. Therefore, the relative risk frequency for the first sector was calculated as follows: 11 x 1.25 = 13.75.

Cumulative frequency = the total of the absolute frequencies of all risk factors at or below a certain point in the timelines.

Calculation example

The cumulated frequency of risk in the first sector is 13.75. In the second sector, the relative frequency of risk is added: 13.75 + 12.50 = 26.25.
This text was provided especially for the Meeting Russia Blog on the RIAC website:

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