Firehose of falsehood

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The firehose of falsehood is a propaganda technique in which a large number of messages are broadcast rapidly, repetitively, and continuously over multiple channels (such as news and social media) without regard for truth or consistency. An outgrowth of Soviet propaganda techniques, the firehose of falsehood is a contemporary model for Russian propaganda under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian government used the technique during its offensive against Georgia in 2008, and continued to use it in Russia's war with Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, and the prelude to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The model has been adopted by other governments and political movements around the world, including by former U.S. President Donald Trump.


The RAND Corporation coined the name "firehose of falsehood" in 2016, describing a technique it observed in Russian propaganda which combines a very large number of communications and disregard for the truth.[1] It is distinguished from the older Soviet propaganda techniques used during the Cold War in part by the much larger quantity of messages and channels enabled by the internet and changes in how people consume news information. The immediate aim is to entertain, confuse, and overwhelm the audience, and disinterest in or opposition to fact-checking and accurate reporting means the propaganda can be delivered to the public more quickly than better sources.[1][2] The approach's success flouts the conventional wisdom that communication is more persuasive when it is truthful, credible, and non-contradictory.[1]

According to RAND, the firehose of falsehood model has four distinguishing factors: it

  1. is high-volume and multichannel
  2. is rapid, continuous, and repetitive
  3. lacks a commitment to objective reality
  4. lacks commitment to consistency.[1]

The high volume of messages, the use of multiple channels, and the use of internet bots and fake accounts are effective because people are more likely to believe a story when it appears to have been reported by multiple sources.[1] In addition to the recognizably-Russian news source RT, for example, Russia disseminates propaganda using dozens of proxy websites whose connection to RT are "disguised or downplayed."[3] People are also more likely to believe a story when they think many others believe it, especially if those others belong to a group with which they identify]]. Thus, a group of operatives can influence a person's opinion by creating the false impression that a majority of that person's neighbors support a given view.[1]


The Russian government has used the "firehose of falsehood" at least as early as its offensive against Georgia in 2008.[1] It has continued to use it in its war with Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and the prelude to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[1][4] There have also been campaigns targeting other "near abroad" post-Soviet states and the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.[1][5]

As part of its involvement in the Syrian civil war, Russian state media published a number of stories in November 2017 claiming that coalition forces were purposely allowing Islamic State fighters to escape from Abu Kamal, Syria. The stories included a so-called "satellite image", which was later found to be a screen capture from a video game.[6]

Firehosing has also been a feature of Russian disinformation campaigns targeting Western Europe and the United States, including as part of the interference in the 2016 United States elections.[5][2] In 2019, according to the science writer William J. Broad of The New York Times, the propaganda network RT America began a "firehose of falsehood" campaign to convince Americans that 5G phones were a health hazard, even as Putin was ordering the launch of 5G networks in Russia.[7]

According to the author and former military intelligence officer John Loftus, Iran has been using similar methods to incite hatred against Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Israel. He claims that some fake news that is attributed to Russia was actually planted in the Western press by Iran.[8]

During Indonesia's 2019 presidential race, the incumbent, Joko Widodo, accused Prabowo Subianto's campaign team of disseminating hateful propaganda aided by foreign consultants and cited "Russian propaganda" and the "firehose of falsehood" model.[9]

According to the Mother Jones editor Monika Bauerlein, the firehose technique is increasingly being used against the press by American politicians. She warns readers to expect an increase in the use of several related tactics: the lawsuit threat, the "fake news" denial, and the ad hominem attack.[10] Several publications have characterized the communications strategies of Donald Trump as a firehose of falsehood.[11][12][13][14][15]

The technique has also been used by activists, such as by the anti-vaccine movement to spread debunked theories about the supposed dangers of vaccination.[16]


Conventional counterpropaganda efforts are ineffective against this technique. As researchers at RAND put it, "Don't expect to counter the firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth." They suggest:

  • repeating the counterinformation
  • providing an alternative story to fill in the gaps created when false "facts" are removed
  • forewarning people about propaganda, highlighting the ways propagandists manipulate public opinion
  • countering the effects of propaganda, rather than the propaganda itself; for example, to counter propaganda that undermines support for a cause, work to boost support for that cause rather than refuting the propaganda directly
  • turning off the flow by enlisting the aid of Internet service providers and social media services, and conducting electronic warfare and cyberspace operations[1]

Researchers at the German Marshall Fund suggest, among other things, being careful not to repeat or amplify the original false claim; repeating a false story, even to refute it, makes people more likely to believe it.[17] Security expert Bruce Schneier recommends teaching digital literacy as part of an 8-step information operations kill chain.[18]

Another way to combat disinformation is to respond quickly as events unfold and be the first to tell the story. An example of this occurred in February 2018, when Syrian pro-regime forces began shelling Syrian Democratic Forces near Khasham and coalition forces responded in self-defense. The Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) immediately published a news release titled "Unprovoked attack by Syrian pro-regime forces prompts coalition defensive strikes." In response to the news, reporters from around the world flooded the CJTF–OIR with queries, which allowed CJTF–OIR to establish the facts before Russian news outlets could spin the story.[6]

In "How We Win the Competition for Influence" (2019), military strategists Wilson C. Blythe and Luke T. Calhoun stress the importance of consistent messaging. They compare information operations to other weapons used by the military to target an enemy and achieve a desired result: "The information environment is an inherent part of today's battlefields."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paul, Christopher; Matthews, Miriam (2016). "Russia's "Firehose of Falsehood" Propaganda Model". RAND Corporation. doi:10.7249/PE198. JSTOR resrep02439. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Kakutani, Michiko (2018). "The Firehose of Falsehood: Propaganda and Fake News". The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. Crown/Archetype. pp. 94–104. ISBN 9780525574842.
  3. ^ Kramer, Franklin D.; Speranza, Lauren D. (May 1, 2017), Meeting the Russian Hybrid Challenge: A Comprehensive Strategic Framework, Atlantic Council, p. 9, JSTOR resrep03712.5
  4. ^ Kenneth R. Rosen, 'Kill Your Commanding Officer': On the Front Lines of Putin’s Digital War With Ukraine, Politico Magazine (February 15, 2022).
  5. ^ a b Caryl, Christian (April 5, 2017). "If you want to see Russian information warfare at its worst, visit these countries". The Washington Post.
  6. ^ a b c Blythe, Lt. Col. Wilson C., Jr.; Calhoun, Lt. Col. Luke T. (May 2019). "How We Win the Competition for Influence". Military Review.
  7. ^ Broad, William J. (May 12, 2019). "Your 5G Phone Won't Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise. RT America, a network known for sowing disinformation, has a new alarm: the coming '5G Apocalypse.'". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Iran Is Faking the Fake News". Ami Magazine. May 22, 2019.
  9. ^ Sapiie, Marguerite Afra; Anya, Agnes (February 4, 2019). "Jokowi accuses Prabowo camp of enlisting foreign propaganda help". The Jakarta Post.
  10. ^ Bauerlein, Monika (December 2017). "The Firehose of Falsehood". Nieman Lab.
  11. ^ Brian Stelter (November 30, 2020). "'Firehose of falsehood:' How Trump is trying to confuse the public about the election outcome". CNN.
  12. ^ Maza, Carlos (August 31, 2018). "Why obvious lies make great propaganda". Vox.
  13. ^ Zappone, Chris (October 12, 2016). "Donald Trump campaign's 'firehose of falsehoods' has parallels with Russian propaganda". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  14. ^ Harford, Tim (May 6, 2021). "What magic teaches us about misinformation". Financial Times.
  15. ^ Clifton, Denise (August 3, 2017). "Trump's nonstop lies may be a far darker problem than many realize". Mother Jones.
  16. ^ Firehosing: the systemic strategy that anti-vaxxers are using to spread misinformation by Lucky Tran, The Guardian, November 7, 2019
  17. ^ Tworek, Heidi (February 1, 2017). "Political Communications in the 'Fake News' Era: Six Lessons for Europe". German Marshall Fund: 8. JSTOR resrep18898.
  18. ^ Schneier, Bruce (April 24, 2019). "Toward an Information Operations Kill Chain". Lawfare (blog).

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