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Special Interest Groups' Use of Social Media as a Weapon

There are hundreds of special interest groups that are involved in a wide variety of interests, ranging from commerce and health, to art, community development, and religion. There are also groups that are involved in political and social causes. This chapter examines well-established special interest groups with a specific area of interest. Other groups that emerge and form during times of social upheaval and engage in time-specific activities are discussed in Chapter 7: “Social Media Warfare for Support of Social Causes.” Special interest groups that are involved in politics and the electoral process are discussed in Chapter 6: “Social Media Warfare in the Political Electoral Process.”

Types of Special Interest Groups

There are two major types of special interest groups. First, is the stand-alone group formed to pursue a specific interest or to work in a defined realm for social action, social change, or influence of the public and government and private sector decision makers. Second, are special interest groups that are a part of an industry sector or part of a larger organization; these subgroups have a more narrow field of endeavor but are still related to the overall goals of the larger organization. This chapter focuses primarily on stand-alone special interest groups that are part of

Table 5.1 Different Focuses of Special Interest Groups



Affirmative action

Human rights

Animal rights


Campaign finance reform

Industry specific groups

Drug addiction and treatment

Labor—Workers rights


Military veterans


Religious organizations

Fraternal organizations

Taxes taxation

Gun control — Gun rights

Voter rights

Hate groups

Women's' issues

LGBT rights

World trade

an industry sector or have a specific interest; it does not focus on the subgroups of larger organizations. Special interest groups have many areas of focus. Table 5.1 provides popular examples of special interest group activity.

These very powerful groups are actively involved in social media warfare and expend considerable energy on self-validation, recruitment and indoctrination, influence, and relationship building. These groups generally have large budgets and professional staff that work in lobbying, education programs, fund-raising, and communications. Some of the most powerful special interest groups in the United States are listed in Table 5.2.

There are hundreds of smaller and less powerful special interest groups and charities that are involved in numerous issues. Smaller organizations do not have as large a staff or the budget to support one. Volunteers are essential for the smaller special interest group and supply much of the labor needed to keep organizations afloat. Social media warfare tactics help the small groups self-validate, recruit, and

Table 5.2 Powerful Special Interest Groups in the United States

American Association of Retired Persons

American Israel Public Affairs Committee

American Medical Association

Americans for Prosperity

National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

National Rifle Association

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

indoctrinate; but these groups have few resources to do much more. Several special interest groups have very little in the way of a formal organization structure, but they do have considerable grassroots support behind the social cause promoted by a few small organizations.

What drives attacks against or by special interest groups is the perspective they have on issues that they support or oppose. The offline profile of radical special interest groups drives their online actions and approach to social media warfare. The largest, as well as many smaller, organizations focus efforts on inducing members or supporters to lobbying and pressure elected officials. The smaller groups often motivate a grassroots constituency to take physical action along with social media warfare tactics. This results in a rather unique approach for each of the different groups. There are several social media warfare tactics that are frequently used by special interest groups and those that oppose the groups:

  • ? Self-validation supports the validity and legitimacy of an organization and the subject of special interest.
  • ? Influencing aligned entities aims to have them adopt the same position and use the same or similar rhetoric and justifications for the position or issue supported by a large organization or by a few smaller organizations with a grassroots following.
  • ? Reinforcing alliance partners shows support for an ally’s position on an issue.
  • ? Persuasion of non-aligned entities is working to convince non-allies of the validity and legitimacy of a position on an issue.
  • ? Recruitment and indoctrination is the process of aligning new entities or individuals to a position on an issue, and getting them to adopt the same rhetoric on the topic. Relationship building is the process of establishing and nurturing cooperative efforts with like-minded people or organizations.
  • ? Nullifying opponents is the process of discrediting an opponent’s position on an issue.
  • ? Deception is the process of using invalid or false information or pretense to counter an opponent’s position on an issue.
  • ? Confusion is designed to disorient and deceive opponents or neutral parties about the facts or perspectives on an issue.
  • ? Divisiveness involves instigating hatred and suspicion among opponents regarding an issue.
  • ? Exposure involves the release of information that can embarrass or otherwise jeopardize the legitimacy of an opponent’s position on an issue.
  • ? Trolling is leaving posts online in opposition to existing posts, made by individuals or in the name of an organization or a position on an issue.
  • ? Blended threats are combined activities that are designed to counter an opponent’s position on an issue or legitimize a supporter’s position; they involve multiple social media tools.
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