top of page

Sleeper Social Media Influencers

8 June 2023

Hybrid Warfare and Psywar has brought modern warfare onto the internet with social media Influencer campaigns. 'Techcamps' are being used by both sides to train these influencer operations.

As we have seen in the latest Substack article featuring Russian “news site” The Intel Drop that is a cog in the wheel of the Hybrid War machine. It was an up close and personal account of Russian propagandists stealing our work to promote their sleeper disinformation websites.

Some say I should take this as a compliment, and I say F**k Putin!

Hybrid warfare is a theory of military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare, and cyberwarfare with other psychological influence operations such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare, and electoral interference to target civilian enemy non-combatants. There is no universally accepted definition of hybrid warfare nor rules in the Geneva Conventions to curtail it.

Disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda isn’t a new concept in warfare. The Soviet Union was renowned for their Illegals Program and Active Measures. Social media has a unique way of reaching a massive audience that state actors couldn’t in the past. During the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia blocked American and Western social media companies so the West couldn’t influence their populace. That isn’t possible in free and open societies, like the United States, because of the Constitutional Right to Freedom of Speech.

Some think the Russian Illegals Programs is throwback of a bygone era using the identities of dead American children.

Gordon Corera’s Russians Among Us gives the account of how Moscow vastly improved its espionage toolkit. Today, the Kremlin uses “sleepers” to influence and subvert western politics through “cyber illegals” by impersonating Americans on online, such as the Russian trolls used during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Some of these spies are “co-optees” without formal training such as the alleged Russian and Israeli asset Scott Ritter.

Marat Mindiyarov, a teacher by training, started working at the Russian Internet Research Agency in 2014. Candidates had to prove they could seamlessly pass as an American in online political conversations. Mindiyarov stated, “Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that “there are thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and vKontakte” maintained by Russian propagandists. According to a former paid Russian Internet troll, the trolls are on duty 24 hours a day, in 12-hour shifts, and each has a daily quota of 135 posted comments of at least 200 characters.

What Matters in Producing and Disseminating High-Volume, Multichannel Propaganda?

  • Variety of sources

  • Number and volume of sources

  • The views of others, especially the views of those who are similar to the message recipient.

Throughout history propaganda has been a weapon used against enemy forces as part of psychological warfare or "psywar." But it has also been used extensively to influence the public opinion in neutral countries, while domestically propaganda has been vital in any war effort. Past efforts may have included traditional media including newspapers and radio, but psywar efforts have moved online.

The New Propaganda Tool: Influencers

The use of influencers could increase as part of any psywar effort, but it is social media that could change the way such efforts are conducted.

"Social media is the place to be if one wants to advance key political or national security objectives," said Todd C. Helmus, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. "Influencer driven approaches to U.S. strategic communication campaigns are becoming more common," Helmus explained. "The commonly applied term here is techcamp, which refers to training given to civil society members to help them more effectively communicate on social media."

In a psywar campaign this could mean taking the efforts to train local influencers in a transparent way.

"The influencers have to want to talk about these issues on social media; They must be free to criticize the government and its policies; and they should not be paid to post specific content, unless of course they are transparent about that payment," added Helmus. "The government's sole role is to build relationships with the influencer and provide desired training and support."

My question is how do we know which social media influencers have been trained by this Techcamp in the US or our adversaries? What exactly is entailed in this training? How many off the books psychological operations are being carried out by these influencers?

(Image: Forbs)

Since Europe’s ban on Russian propaganda, the Russians shifted some propaganda duties to their diplomats, and they’ve pasted the same content on new websites that initially had no obvious ties to Russia (such as our admirers at Many of these sites were set up long before the war in Ukraine and were not obviously tied to the Kremlin until they suddenly began parroting Kremlin talking points all at once.

NewsGuard, a firm that tracks and studies online misinformation, has identified at least 250 websites actively spreading Russian propaganda about the war.

NewsGuard CEO Gordon Crovitz said, “They may be establishing sleeper sites.”

Sleeper sites are websites created for informational warfare campaign that lay dormant and slowly builds an audience through unrelated posts or mainstream sources, then switches to disinformation at an appointed time.

Prime example: Alex Jones and his cross-promotion network that heavily features Russian asset Alexander Dugin who is working hard to bring British and Soviet agent Henry Kissinger’s dream of destroying America’s superpower status and bringing the ‘Multipolar World’ to fruition.

(Image: NY Daily News)

Russian propagandists are utilizing the Sleeper Effect to divide the American population further and further apart. This is why the far right’s and far left’s views are converging and overlapping.

(Image: psychologenie)

The sleeper effect is a commonly observed psychological phenomenon that helps us understand and explain perception and change in attitudes of people with regards to other people, products, entities, etc...

It has been observed in many studies that despite the initial rejection of the message, people tend to get persuaded over time, leading to an increase in the acceptance of that message. This phenomenon of delayed persuasion is called the sleeper effect.

However, for the sleeper effect to manifest, three basic conditions must be met. They are:

  • The message itself should be persuasive

  • The discounting cue must initially suppress attitude change

  • The discounting cue must become dissociated from the message over time

It must be noted that the effect is seen to disappear if the audience is reminded of the source.


bottom of page